A Look at the 2008 SFA Running Backs
Aug. 14, 2008
NACOGDOCHES - First-year running backs coach Aaron De La Torre entered the 2007 season with what he felt was a loaded stable full of talented running backs. And who could blame him? SFA began the year with a returning first-team All-Southland Conference running back in Louie Runnels, and a rising star in sophomore Vincent Pervis who was coming off an all-conference season as a kick returner. Add to that list linebacker Damian Perkins, who led the team in rushing as a freshman, and senior Robert Castillo.
Despite earning preseason All-America honors at linebacker, Perkins was so impressive during fall camp that the coaching staff planned to utilize him on both sides of the ball. As for Castillo, he broke spring camp listed second on the depth chart after an impressive workout. For Coach De La Torre it had to be a dream situation.
What might have started out as a dream quickly faded into a recurring nightmare that would haunt De La Torre, and the Lumberjacks, throughout the 2007 season. The 'Jacks didn't even make it out of the first game before suffering catastrophic injuries to the position. In fact, they didn't make it out of the first half of the season opener. Runnels left the game in the first quarter with an injury, Pervis followed later in the second. By game's end, SFA had lost its top three running backs, which placed SFA in scramble mode to find quality backups. By the end of the year, 13 different players got a shot at running back, including four players who spent at least one game playing both offense and defense.
Heading into the 2008 season, De La Torre once again believes the running backs can be a strength. The Lumberjacks' stable of backs is topped by four athletes who bring a wide range of talents to the field. The only area the group might be running short on is experience.
"It's scary to talk about numbers," said De La Torre. "Because going into last year we really felt like running back was going to be a strength. It was a strength, both physically and depth chart wise. We had three very capable backs. Unfortunately we lost our top three guys in the season opener.
"We feel fairly good at this point that we have some solid depth at the position again this year. Junior Tyrone Ross, sophomores Vincent Pervis and Barlow Reid, and freshman Romonté Hampton have looked very good," added De La Torre.
Under a new offensive coordinator, depth at the running back position is going be valuable. The running backs will be a huge factor in the 'Jacks' success in 2008.
"We need to have guys who are versatile in the backfield," said De La Torre. "It's not a situation where our running backs are never going to touch the ball, but they are more of an all-purpose back. We plan on getting our running backs ample touches, and they have to make plays when we do."
Ross and Pervis are the veterans of the group. Pervis is entering his fourth season on the SFA campus, but has been forced to be patient in waiting for his turn. After redshirting his freshmen season, Pervis earned all-conference recognition as a kick returner during his second season. He appeared on the verge of a breakout season at running back in '07 before the season-ending injury, while Ross makes his way to SFA after a highly-touted career in both high school and junior college.
"Ross is a great story," said De La Torre. "He was the leading rusher in one of the top junior college league's in the country. But for some reason, no one was really recruiting him. It came down between TCU and us, and they didn't offer. We are very fortunate to have this guy on our roster."
"Pervis is a leader both on and off the field. He's been forced to deal with a lot of adversity in his career, but instead of using that as an excuse it has become a motivating factor. He started out on the third team, and has already worked his way back to second. He's going to continue to push for that top running back spot," said De La Torre.
Sophomore Barlow Reid's opportunity almost never happened. He made his debut against nationally ranked Nicholls State, but it wasn't as the starting running back. In fact, Reid didn't even start the game in uniform. Not being counted on to play that day, Reid had to be sent back into the locker room to suit up. No sooner had he returned to the sideline before he was being sent into the game to replace another injured back. Reid's first carry went for 14 yards, and gave SFA a first-and-goal opportunity.
Hampton was one of 15 East Texas standouts during the 'Jacks most recent signing class. A fleet-footed back with the ability to avoid the hit, Hampton rushed for 1,064 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior year at John Tyler High School. Hampton is the type of back who brings big-play potential to the SFA offense.
After a season that saw numerous injuries, and 13 different players line up at running back, everyone is on notice that they may be counted to perform come gameday. SFA has also added two talented walkons in Quinton Lee (6-1, 220) and Christian Hilliard (5-11, 195) who are both showing promise.