Editor’s Note: This is the third part in an eight-part series chronicling each of Carson-Newman football’s positions. Associate head coach Mike Clowney details the Eagles’ running backs for this report.
JEFFERSON CITY — Carson-Newman’s backfield might be as deep as it’s been since Brandon Baker, Tyron Douglas and Andy Hibbett (all of whom rushed for at least 2,900 career yards) were toting the rock for the Eagles in 2013.
The Eagles get to flaunt one of the best running backs in the country in Antonio Wimbush and a stable of more than capable tailbacks. Carson-Newman can easily run four deep at the position. Carson-Newman had eight different people tally at least 100 yards rushing last year. All eight of those players are back.
The 2018 Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year and Don Hansen All-American, Wimbush could etch his name into the C-N record books by the time his senior season is done. He enters the year with 2,880 career rushing yards. If he repeats his rushing output from his junior year, he’ll be Carson-Newman’s third ever 4,000-yard rusher. In fact, he only needs 1,279 yards to pass Carson-Newman legend Robert Thomas to become the program’s all-time leading rusher.
Wimbush could also wind up as the program’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns. However, Buck Wakefield’s school record of 51 career scores on the ground is a bit more of a challenge to reach.
Wimbush enters the year with 30 career rushing scores. If he were to match the record with 21, it would also register as the third-most in a single season in school history. Wimbush had 11 rushing touchdowns in his freshman year, his only season in double digits.
“It’s an exciting time to have him in the room,” Clowney said. “Antonio is really special. That’s not just for what he does on the field, but also the quality of his character off of it.”
Wimbush has been nominated to be a member of the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team.
After Wimbush, the Eagles can call upon Marcus Williams, Demitri Saulsberry, Sherron Jackson, Toot Johnson and Drake McCowan for significant carries among returners with playing experience.
“The talent is unquestionably there,” Clowney said. “Marcus and Demitri have battled for four and five years. That gives you a nice nucleus. They do a great job with the young guys and bringing them along.”
Williams concluded his red-shirt junior season as Carson-Newman’s leading scorer for the year and second-leading rusher. He found the end zone seven times on the ground and once on a kickoff return. Williams wrapped up the year with 609 yards on 82 carries. He averaged 7.4 yards per rush and 55.4 yards per game.
The Apopka, Fla., native produced two, 100-yard rushing efforts in his final four games. He went for 110 yards on eight carries and two scores against Virginia-Lynchburg (Oct. 20), which also went down for his only multi-rushing TD day of the season. He concluded the year with 110 yards on five carries against UNC Pembroke (Nov. 10). Williams finished the year with eight carries of 20 yards or more and four carries of at least 50 yards.
Saulsberry appeared in seven games for the Eagles as a running back. Saulsberry led all rushers with an 8.4 yard per carry average. He finished the year with 252 yards rushing on 30 carries. He scored four touchdowns and averaged 36.0 yards per game. His most productive game came in the finale against UNC Pembroke (Nov. 10) when he plowed his way for 86 yards on four carries with a score.
Jackson tallied 79 carries for 561 yards to finish third on the team in rushing. He averaged 7.1 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns. He averaged 51.0 yards per game with a long run of 68 yards for a score on a draw play in the opener against West Florida. He also caught three passes for 27 yards and returned three kickoffs for 35 yards.
Jackson’s top game in terms of yardage output came against the Argos when he rushed twice for 109 yards and a score. It was the only game of the year he surpassed the 100-yard mark. He found the end zone twice against Mars Hill on a 12-carry, 97-yard day.
Johnson exploded onto the seen before injuries sidetracked the latter portion of his freshman campaign. Johnson finished his first go around at Mossy Creek with 336 yards rushing and four scores. He had a long run of 68 yards against Catawba and found the end zone four times.
“Toot is a special guy,” Clowney said. “He has uncommon size and speed. He brings power and punch. The biggest thing for him is working to develop and learn.”
His top effort came in front of a national audience on ESPN 3 against Wingate in the Eagles’ home opener. Johnson tallied 121 yards on six carries with two scores in the fourth quarter alone. He finished the day with 148 yards on nine carries. That tally is the highest rushing total by a freshman since Tyron Douglas ran for 183 yards against Newberry in 2010.
Finally, McCowan appeared in eight games with three starts at running back for the Eagles. He rushed 32 times for 154 yards, averaging 4.8 yards per carry. McCowan’s long rush of the year was a 35 yarder against Virginia-Lynchburg. He piled up 106 yards rushing against the Dragons to set a new career mark.
The veterans will work with a litany of freshmen who redshirted last year. EJ Davis, Troy Dendy, Mister Hogue, Bryan Payne and Michael Paul will all be in the mix in the backfield.
“It’s so rewarding to see those freshmen develop after sitting out last year,” Clowney said. “EJ told Antonio that he planned on competing to beat Wimbo out this year. It’s a fun time in that room. Their work ethic and the way they function as brothers is outstanding. It’s nice because it’s up to them who plays. We’ll put whoever is best out there.”