By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
It was all so familiar: Chase Reynolds got out ahead of the opposition and crossed over the goal line untouched.
Only this wasn't Reynolds running with the ball during another victory for the University of Montana football team. This came after a scrimmage this spring in, of all things, a wheelbarrow race among the Grizzly players.
Reynolds and his younger brother Tel teamed up for the win, with Chase holding up Tel's ankles and doing the driving when the pair raced over the goal line.
First-year head coach Robin Pflugrad kept the mood light during spring practices with fun competitions like the wheelbarrow race, but the Grizzlies are serious about winning the FCS title after they lost in the national title game each of the last two seasons. Chase Reynolds, the Walter Payton Award candidate who returns for his senior season as one of the top running backs in the FCS, hopes to guide the 12-time defending Big Sky Conference champions across the finish line.
"Losing the national championship is hard enough. Losing it twice is just as bad," Reynolds said. "We're all focused, especially the older guys. It's their last shot; everybody is pushing just to get back there. It's not just as simple as going out and playing the games to get there. It starts right now. I see that in a lot of guys right now. Right now is our time off, but you see almost everybody in the weight room just pounding the weights and trying to get that extra step any way you can."
Chase Reynolds rushed for 22 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons.|
Though not exceptionally big (6 feet, 195 pounds) or fast (4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash), Reynolds usually gets into the end zone when he has an extra step. He rushed for 22 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons as well as 1,583 yards as a sophomore in 2008 and another 1,502 yards last season, when Montana finished with a 14-1 record. That would seem to make it hard for the Grizzlies to do anything but keep giving the ball to Reynolds, who set their single-season record with 321 carries last season.
But Montana is rebuilding its offensive line and Pflugrad, who was an assistant coach under Don Read from 1986-94 and then returned to the program last season as the wide receivers coach under Bobby Hauck, plans to open up the passing attack, a style which fans in Missoula loved in the past.
Less carries are OK with Reynolds, who will get out more on pass routes as the Grizzlies try to keep the ball in his hands.
"The offense has changed a little bit, it's a little more pass-oriented," he said. "It's pretty much the same deal, they're just going to try to get me out a little quicker and maybe use it as an advantage to get some wide receivers open a little more because the (line)backers will have to be focused more on the running back coming out. I'm kind of excited for the change; I know a lot of guys are.
"Defenses do key on me a little more and it does make it harder to gain yards. If (defenses) are keying on me, usually there's somebody else that it opens up to get plays. As long as we're winning, I'm happy."
There are plenty of talented running backs across the FCS. Here are nine more to comprise a list of the Top 10:
Nate Eachus, Colgate, Junior - With Jordan McCord no longer on the roster, the 5-foot-10, 206-pound Eachus should get increased carries. In his first two seasons, he has combined for 1,851 yards and 26 touchdowns on 359 carries. A fast, shifty runner, he missed over three games with a broken rib last season. In 2008, he began his freshman season at linebacker, only to switch to the other side of the ball when leading rusher Jordan Scott was injured against Cornell. In that game, he rushed for 241 yards in just over two quarters.
Chris Evans, Samford, Senior - Every yard that Evans rushes for this season will add to his school-record total of 3,469 yards. The All-Southern Conference first-team performer has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of his first three seasons, including 1,152 as a junior. Strong work ethic in practice sets up the 6-foot, 215-pounder in games. He makes the right reads and cuts at the line of scrimmage. He's also a terrific pass-catcher out of the backfield.
Jonathan Grimes, William & Mary, Junior - Grimes is known across campus for being a pretty fair keyboardist, but his sweetest music comes at Zable Stadium. Last season, the 5-10, 201-pound Grimes led CAA Football with 1,294 rushing yards and was 13th in the FCS in all-purpose yards. He's not lightning fast, just a superb all-around player. The All-CAA first-team selection caught 46 passes a year ago while the Tribe reached the FCS semifinals.
* Sept. 11 - Jacksonville (Small) at Appalachian State (Moore)
* Sept. 18 - Montana (Reynolds) at Eastern Washington (Jones)
* Sept. 25 - Appalachian State (Moore) at Samford (Evans)
* Oct. 30 - Austin Peay (Holt) at Eastern Illinois (Williams)
Terrence Holt, Austin Peay, Senior - Last season, the undersized Holt (5-7, 180) teamed with Ryan White to give the Governors the first set of backs from the same team to earn All-Ohio Valley Conference first-team honors since 1990. Holt led the conference in touchdowns (16) and averaged 5.4 yards per carry (793 yards). His cutback skills make tacklers miss him. He led the FCS in all- purpose yards per game (215.7), helped by his third straight season of at least 1,000 yards on kickoff returns.
Taiwan Jones, Eastern Washington, Junior - Montana's Chase Reynolds has some competition in the Big Sky Conference for All-America honors. Last season, the speedy Jones (6-1, 200) rushed for 1,213 yards and 15 touchdowns on only 162 carries - an average of 7.5 yards per carry. Despite his home run ability, he also is tough between the tackles. He added 561 receiving yards and 571 yards in kickoff returns to finish second in the FCS in all-purpose yards per game (195.4). He played cornerback as a freshman in 2008.
Kyle Minett, South Dakota State, Senior - Minett's 108.7 rushing yards per game ranks No. 1 among the FCS' returning players. He finished with 1,340 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. The 5-10, 215-pounder has a hard-nosed north-south style and is an excellent receiver out of the backfield. He will challenge for the Missouri Valley Football Conference Offensive Player of the Year Award.
Devon Moore, Appalachian State, Senior - After missing most of 2008 with an ankle injury, the 5-9, 200-pound Moore came back strong last season by rushing for 1,374 yards and 19 touchdowns while adding 36 receptions for 282 yards. He's a versatile runner who is comfortable between the tackles and on the perimeter. He will be the focal point of App State's offense now that quarterback Armanti Edwards, the two-time Walter Payton Award winner, is off to the NFL. Moore rushed for a 46-yard touchdown in the Mountaineers' FCS Championship Game win over Delaware in 2007.
Rudell Small, Jacksonville, Senior - Small comes up big as Jacksonville's all- time leading rusher. He has rushed for 2,928 yards and 31 touchdowns in his first three seasons and made the Pioneer Football League first team in each of the past two seasons. The 5-10, 201-pound Small can take a hit as well as deliver one as he finds holes in a defense. In his first start in 2007, Small scored five touchdowns.
Mon Williams, Eastern Illinois, Senior - The Panthers will rely on Williams more this season than in his first campaign after transferring in from the University of Florida. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry while rushing for 870 yards and nine touchdowns, earning Ohio Valley Conference second-team honors. The 6-2, 210-pound Williams has a physical style and can run over defenders and then use deceptive speed in open space.