CHARLESTON, S.C. – The Charleston Southern Sports Information Department is providing a position-by-position preview of the Buccaneers' 2017 squad. In today's edition, we take a look at the running backs.
Lost: Darius Hammond, Mike Holloway, Ben Robinson, Alan Barnwell, Kelan Fraise
Three Things to Watch from the CSU Running Backs
Living in the present
The production of CSU's running game over the past four seasons is well-documented. Players like Christian Reyes, Mike Holloway, Darius Hammond and Ben Robinson helped establish the program's identity, leaving their names all over the Bucs' record book in the process.
CSU ranked sixth nationally in rushing last season, marking the fourth straight year it was inside the top 20. To continue that level of success, running backs coach Malcolm Dixon believes the Bucs' current backs just need to be themselves.
"The biggest challenge right now, I tell the guys all the time, is to make sure they don't get caught up with what was in the past," Dixon said. "We've got a lot of talent in the room and I think we can have the same kind of success we've had in the past. Our guys are preparing well. Now, they need to go out there and trust in the things that they see."
Waiting is over for Hamilton and Harris
After redshirting in 2015 and biding their time behind the trio of Holloway, Hammond and Robinson in 2016, sophomores Chanin Hamilton and Ronnie Harris figure to play leading roles in the Bucs' ground game in 2017. Both earned spot playing time last season, with some of their most extensive action coming at Florida State. Hamilton rushed for a career-high 53 yards against the Seminoles, while Harris earned his first career start in that game.
"They've been here for two years and I think they're real hungry," Dixon said. "From a standpoint of picking up on the offense, asking questions and taking notes, you can tell that they're ready to get out there on the field and showcase themselves and make another name for the CSU running backs."
Minor injuries kept both backs out of spring practice, making fall camp all the more important as they assume the top spots on the depth chart. Both have showcased the talent that make the coaching staff optimistic they can pile up yardage.
"Chanin, he's a special guy in the box," Dixon said. "He has a really good knack, is pretty sharp and understands the offense. Ronnie, he's my bull in the china shop type guy. It takes him a little bit longer to pick up on things but he has a burst and a build that makes him tough to stop. Those guys are taking a lot of the reps, and they've earned them."
Henry tops list of newcomers
Ellijah Henry had a better grasp of the offense than most players do entering their first fall camp. That's because Henry enrolled early and participated in spring practice after graduating from Rocky River High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. The absence of Hamilton, Harris and Adam Allen in spring was Henry's gain, as the speedy back earned plenty of carries in the temporarily depleted backfield.
"Him coming in the spring was huge," Dixon said. "If he had come for the first time this summer, I don't know exactly how close he would be to being up there in the mix. Him, Terrance Wilson and Noah Shuler basically took a lot of the reps in spring so he was forced to play a lot and understand the game. He made a lot of mistakes but he learned from them and could possibly make the bus and be a big contributor in our offense."
Henry was a two-time all-conference pick at Rocky River, and ran for 700 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Wilson, along with Feather River College transfer Taz Lindsey, present the Bucs two other options with excellent straight-line speed.
Player Spotlight – Noah Shuler
Noah Shuler, a local product from Stratford High School in Goose Creek, has earned the affection of his coaches and teammates. Shuler waited his turn in 2015 and 2016 after transferring from Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He has an opportunity to make the most of his final college campaign with a somewhat unorthodox running style. At 5-7, 215 pounds, Shuler's build and power make him tough to tackle.
"It's hard to compare him to this guy 'cause this guy did so much but he's a lot like Christian Reyes with his hard work, dedication and love of the game," Dixon said. "Noah's a guy that's had some difficulties since he started here but that hasn't stopped him."
"He has a real good sense for the box and he's a tough little son of a gun to bring down," Dixon continued. "He gets hit and he bounces around and he keeps running. Just his work ethic speaks volumes. He had a slim shot and got it done so he's got a special place in my heart just from that standpoint."
"When I got hurt in 2013 and was forced to sit back and listen to guys like Danny (Croghan) and Kyle (Copeland) and mentor them, it basically reinforced the things a lot of my high school coaches told me. 'Hey, you're a coach. I don't care what you say – you're a coach.' I didn't want to listen (laughing) but it's been great. Coach Tucker and the new guys that have come in and been at several levels, it's great being around them and understanding how to get across to kids." – Running backs coach Malcolm Dixon (CSU Class of 2014, 2017 (M.B.A.)) on coaching
9,236 – Total combined yards accounted for by Darius Hammond, Mike Holloway and Ben Robinson in their CSU careers. The trio also combined for 62 touchdowns. Holloway graduated as the Bucs' all-time rushing leader, with Hammond (4th) and Robinson (6th) not far behind. Replacing their production and leadership will be a challenge.
303 – Total combined yards accounted for by returners Adam Allen, Chanin Hamilton, Ronnie Harris and Noah Shuler to this point in their CSU careers. The group has promise but has mostly yet to experience the game field. Harris has the only career start in the group, earning that last September at Florida State.
CSU has moved beyond fall camp and into its regular season practice schedule in preparation for next Saturday's opener at Mississippi State. The Bucs will take off from practice this Saturday and Sunday.