Running backs hope to emerge against Blazers

Freshman running back Malik Emmett makes a cut during a UNA football practice Sept. 6. The UNA football team has a multiplicity of running backs it hopes to utilize this season.

The UNA football team faced a top-FCS opponent, Jacksonville State, in the season opener in hopes of being competitive while also finding its identity.

The Lions suffered a 31-12 loss to the Gamecocks, but the effort was nothing to be ashamed of, said UNA head coach Bobby Wallace.

Wallace said he saw glimpses of hope in the passing game and the defense, but did not have a schematic chance to see what the run game would look like against JSU’s front seven.

“I don’t think the running backs even had a chance to show us anything,” Wallace said. “We got into a game where we weren’t able to get the running backs the ball, and we wouldn’t have had a chance if we had.”

Sophomore Damon Cox and redshirt freshman Terrance Humphrey combined for nine yards against JSU, as the Lions’ pass-heavy attack garnered 170 yards.

Wallace said the running back competition is still wide open, but there is no guarantee next week’s Gulf South Conference home opener vs. Valdosta State will provide an answer.

“The (opponent’s) defense schematically dictates what our offense does,” Wallace said. “That’s a mistake we made three years ago when we tried to run the ball against Delta State, and they ran an eight-man front all night. We were hard-headed trying to run on the eight-man front when we needed to be taking shots downfield.”

If the Valdosta defense decides not to stack the box, the backs will be ready when their number is called, said offensive graduate assistant and running back coach Courtland Hays.

“They’re great people and do everything you ask them to do,” Hays said. “They go to go class, the come to practice ready to work, they’re unselfish and really want to be good. You can’t teach that.”

Alongside Cox and Humphreys, transfer junior Nick Taylor, redshirt-freshman Malik Emmett, junior Ray Beasley and injured sophomore Peyton Satterfield are all in the mix for carries.

“It’ll be multiple guys running the ball,” Hays said. “Whether or not one particular player stands out later on, you never know. But we’re not there yet. A lot of it will depend on the personnel we’re in and how healthy we are.”

Hays said Cox is the likely favorite to receive the bulk of the carries since he has experience against GSC defenses, unlike the other backs. Cox had 14 carries for 134 yards last season.

Cox said having a plethora of backs jockeying for carries pushes him to improve every day.

“I feel like having three or four backs keeps everyone fresh,” he said. “We try to cheer each other on equally. We like to compete kind of in a nice way.”

UNA (0-1) will look for its first win against the Blazers Sept. 17 in Braly Stadium.