With under two months till the season opener at Jacksonville State, here’s the running back outlook in our position-by-position series on FIU.
The Panthers have been in great shape at the position for the better part of a decade now.
Starting with former 1,000-yard rusher Kedrick Rhodes, on to the steady and reliable Alex Gardner, then finishing the 2010’s with the duo of Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell - both of whom are currently on NFL rosters.
As FIU enters a new decade, running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. may have the most talented stable of backs in program history.
However, while capable, the majority of the group is untested. Let’s take a look at a group of players who will be eager to make their mark on Conference USA.
All stats listed are for the 2019 season unless noted otherwise. Projected starter(s) in bold.
Returning: D’Vonte Price (Sr.)- 6-2, 205, 50 carries for 249 yards
Maleek Williams (R-Jr.)- 5-11, 225, zero statistics, played in four games on special teams
Shaun Peterson Jr. (R-Soph.)- 6-3, 225, eight carries for 32 yards
Demarcus Townsend (R-Soph.)- 5-11, 205, one carry for one yard
Lexington Joseph (Soph.)- 5-8, 180, 12 carries for 65 yards
Andy Bautista (R-Fr.)- 6-1, 230, redshirted (Fullback)
Kamareon Williams (Soph.)- 6-3, 240, three receptions for 27 yards (Fullback/Tight End)
Newcomers: Eric Wilson Jr. (Fr.) - 5-11, 195, three-star recruit Tampa Armwood HS
Kejon Owens (Fr.) - 5-10, 185, three-star recruit, Miami Central HS
Heading into Fall: At the end of the 2018 season, an argument could have been made that D’Vonte Price was one of the top backs in C-USA - not named Benny Lemay or Spencer Brown. He averaged over seven yards per carry in the team’s final eight contests, including a pair of 100-yard performances.
However, he began the 2019 campaign battling injuries and never quite got on track.
2020 will be a chance for Price to show what he can do fully healthy - and as the number one back. Behind him are a litany of backs with Power Five talent.
If Flex Joseph were two inches and 20 pounds larger, he would be playing in the SEC.
Shaun Peterson Jr. is a mountain of a back, who had multiple Power Five offers as a linebacker but chose FIU to play on the offensive side of the ball.
Demarcus Townsend, in all likelihood, was Big Ten bound until an ACL injury in high school and Maleek Williams began his career at Arkansas before transferring to FIU last season.
Summary: Going back to his days at Miami, Butch Davis is known for having depth in the backfield. His tenure at FIU has been no different, as over the past two seasons at least three backs have seen 50 or more carries.
Price as the RB1 will provide an excellent rushing-receiving threat.
Following him is anyone’s guess.
Peterson Jr. has seen carries in the previous two seasons and the coaching staff is high on his abilities. At 6-3, 225-pounds, he’s capable of providing a bruiser in contrast to the shifty Price.
Enough was thought of Joseph to burn his redshirt, and he saw the most carries outside of the veteran backs last season. Even in a small sample size, his ability as a natural runner is abundant.
Both Williams and Townsend have battled injuries at points in their football careers. But the fact of the matter is if both are 100% healthy, they’re more than capable of carrying the load.
Williams would have seen snaps on offense had his transfer waiver been approved earlier, but he may be the fastest, being clocked at a 4.42 40-yard-dash in high school. Ironically enough, Price was Williams’ back-up at Charlotte High.
The fullback position is used sparingly in Rich Skrosky’s offense.
In 2018, Colin Olsen saw situational snaps on offense. Last season, Kamareon Williams filled the role as an H-Back/fullback type.
Position Grade: B - Running back may be the position on this roster with the highest ceiling.
The lack of statistics from the majority of the backs shouldn’t be confused with shortage of ability - Jones and Maxwell were an excellent duo - as evidenced by their NFL signings.
While the Panthers’ run game was successful in many aspects last season - they weren’t successful consistently. FIU was held to under four yards per carry in seven games last season, with the only win in those contests being against a 1-11 Old Dominion team.
Yes, the stat listed above is tied in with the performance of the offensive line. However, this year’s group of backs should provide a level of explosiveness that was missing last year.
Expect Price to finally have the breakout season he appeared to be on the cusp of entering last season and Williams to see significant snaps on offense.
As evidenced by the success of rival Florida Atlantic last season, having a stable of high-end talents in the backfield can guide a team to victories - while other positions are finding their form.