Historically, South Carolina State has been the most dominant running team in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Bulldog runners have been among the league’s top rushers since the inception of the league.
And, until last season, the MEAC career rushing leader was a Bulldog – William “Will” Ford, who amassed 4,672 yards during his career (2006-2009). North Carolina A&T’s Tarik Cohen surpassed Ford’s mark in 2016.
S.C. State's Ford, second; Michael Hicks (1993-1995), fourth; and David “DeShawn” Baker (2003-2006), sixth, rank among the MEAC’s top-10 rushing leaders. This dynamic Bulldog trio combined for nine 1,000-plus-yard rushing seasons and went over the 100-yard single-game rushing mark a combined 22 times.
However, 1,000-yard rushing seasons and 100-yard games have been a rarity since the departure of Hicks, Baker and Ford. The last back to reach the 1,000-yard rushing plateau in a season was Jalen “Scoot” Simmons – now with the Carolina Panthers – who achieved the feat in 2014. And the last back to go over the 100-yard rushing mark in single game was Bishop Ford last season.
Reaching such rushing milestones is certainly noteworthy, but you don’t have to have a 1,000-yard rusher to be effective on offense anymore. Strategies have evolved and the “throw” game has come into play, according to Bulldog head coach Buddy Pough, who is pleased at the stable of running backs S.C. State will have in 2017.
“While we think running the ball is still key to success on the football field, the days of the 1,000-yard rusher may be dwindling a bit because of the throw game,” Pough said. “Offenses are so different today.”
Pough and his staff will have to replace the nifty running of Ford, last year’s rushing leader with almost 700 yards, an academic casualty, and the power running of Dondre Brown, the No. 2 rusher, who completed his eligibility and got his degree.
“Our two top run producers from last season are gone, but I’m confident the group that we have coming back can get the job done,” Pough said.
Heading the group is a trio of sophomores – Labron Morris (5-10, 185, Decatur, Ga.), Datron James (5-10, 200, N. Charleston), and Jarius Jenkins (5-11, 200, Neeses), plus redshirt junior Trey Samuel, a very gifted runner who sustained a season-ending injury in the 2016 opener against Central Florida.
Morris was the only one among the group to get any game action last year, appearing in 10 games, with 43 carries for 133 yards. Both James and Jenkins were redshirted.
Pough and his offensive staff have been unable to hide their enthusiasm when speaking about these Bulldog runners.
“Morris and James are outstanding players on this level,” Pough said. “They are kind of like twins on our team as they emerged from spring drills neck and neck. Morris is more of a shake-and-bake guy, while James runs with more power. Frankly, I would have little worry if either one of them was in there carrying the ball.
“Jenkins is like a wildcard as we can stick him in there at any point and get a quality performance. And it’s always good to have a local guy (Jenkins attended Hunter-Kinard-Tyler High) in the mix and someone you can get excited about. And with Trey Samuel coming back from his knee injury, we feel pretty good about our running game and just how productive we can be.”
Lee Chambers, who will be working with the running backs this season, echoed Pough’s sentiment.
“We have some very talented running backs with lots of versatility, speed and power,” Chambers said. “Labron Morris, Datron James and Jarius Jenkins were impressive in the spring and Trey Samuel is coming back from an injury, so I think our running game is in good hands.”
The involvement of S.C. State pass catchers in the Bulldog offensive attack has certainly moved a long way from the Willie Jeffries era, when it was sarcastically stated that “Coach Jeffries wouldn’t even pass on the interstate.”
For years, S.C. State wide receivers were used mainly as decoys and blockers because of the Bulldogs’ lethal running game. Despite a run-oriented attack, a few Bulldog receivers had solid careers and made it to the NFL. Think John Gilliam (New Orleans/Minnesota), Al Young (Pittsburgh), Wendell Tucker (L.A. Rams), Charlie Brown (Washington/Atlanta) and Ed Lee (Detroit).
And then there were Tavarus Morgan, who had a school single-season record 70 catches in 2003; Oliver “Tre” Young (2006-2009), who ranks among the MEAC top 20 in receiving yards (2,156); Freddie Solomon (1991-1994), who ranks among the MEAC’s elite in touchdown receptions (20); and Lennel Elmore, who had 12 catches in a game to rank among the conference leaders in that category.
The 2017 edition of Bulldog receivers has not established itself among the MEAC elite – at least not yet – but the group has the ability to be special and play a major role.
De’Montrez Burroughs (6-2, 200 So.), a late addition to the receiving corps after moving from defensive back, is very talented and proved how productive he could be after grabbing 23 catches for 348 yards and three TDs in just six games.
Quan Caldwell (5-11, 170 r-Jr.) was second with 22 catches for 221 yards and three scores, while Tra’Quan Dubose (5-10, 170 r-So.) and Tyler Schadewald (6-3, 190 So.) gained valuable experience in a reserve role.
“We think we have a receiving group that can put some pressure on the defense,” Pough said. “It’s important that we develop some consistency in our receiving corps. Our guys will have to catch the ball, run hard and be hard-nosed blockers. I think this group can do just that.”
Next week, we take a look at the S.C. State offensive line.
Bill Hamilton retired as sports information director at S.C. State after nearly four decades in the post. He is a member of the MEAC Hall of Fame and the recipient of numerous other honors for his service to the university and journalism. He reports on S.C. State as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.