With less than two months until the Panthers begin their season at home against FCS Long Island, here’s our look at the running backs in our position-by-position preview of the 2021 FIU football team.
Senior D’Vonte Price looks to build upon a truncated 2020 campaign that saw him lead Conference USA in yards per carry (6.8) and finish second in yards per contest (116.2). Behind Price are a litany of inexperienced, yet talented backs who will look to carve out their own roles in the running back rotation.
Let’s take a look at the group as they enter the fall.
All stats listed are for the 2020 season unless noted otherwise. Projected starter(s) in bold. Class year reflects NCAA eligibility rules for 2021 season.
Returning: D’Vonte Price (Sr.)- 6-2, 215, 85 carries for 581 yards and four touchdowns
Maleek Williams (R-Jr.)- 5-11, 225, five carries for 20 yards
Shaun Peterson Jr. (R-Soph.)- 6-3, 225, 28 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns
Lexington Joseph (Soph.)- 5-8, 180, eight carries for 30 yards
Eric Wilson Jr. (Fr.) - 5-11, 195, five carries for negative one yard
Kejon Owens (Fr.) - 5-10, 185, zero appearances in 2020
Katravis Geter (Fr.) - 5-10, 195, three-star recruit, Miami (Miami Carol City HS)
Heading into Fall: Despite having never reached north of double-digit carries in a season, Price is a proven commodity. When healthy, he’s averaged over six yards per rush in his career and has shown the ability to be a home-run threat with four touchdown runs of 50 yards or longer. The backs following him will benefit from having a full spring and fall session. Maleek Williams is a former high-school teammate of Price who began his career at Arkansas as a four-star recruit before transferring to FIU in 2019. Although he’s a redshirt junior, Williams only has 32 carries in his collegiate career.
Sophomore Flex Joseph has shown promise as a return-man during his career at FIU and projects to see more time in the backfield in ‘21. The diminutive back saw immediate playing time as a true freshman and was in the rotation before a season-ending broken arm midway through 2020.
Redshirt sophomore Shaun Peterson Jr. patiently waited his turn in the backfield behind veterans Anthony Jones, Napoleon Maxwell and Price during his first two seasons despite being a highly-touted linebacking prospect out of high school. His persistence — and insistence that he could be an impact player on the offensive side of the ball paid off in ‘20. Against MTSU, Peterson Jr. rushed for 117 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown scamper, showing that he has the speed to be more than a bruising power back. How he’s able to recover from a torn ACL and meniscus suffered in October will play a factor in the running back rotation.
The injuries to Joseph and Peterson forced E.J. Wilson into action last season but should the running back room remain healthy, expect he, Owens and true freshman Katravis Geter to see spot duty in 2021.
Summary: Entering the 2019 season, there was significant talk of Price having a breakout season — even with the veteran backs on the roster.
“We were surprised that we didn't see more of (Price), because leading up to the game we felt that he was the most dangerous back (FIU) has,” said Tulane secondary coach JJ McCleskey.
A hamstring injury entering the year kept Price from being able to hit his stride in ‘19. However, his play in 2020 showed that he is the real deal.
“D’Vonte Price has as good of vision and natural running ability as all of the great backs I’ve been around, the (Emmitt) Smith’s, Edgerrin (James), Clinton Portis’,” said Butch Davis.
An interesting statistic about Price’s success last season is much of his success (9.3 yards per attempt) came rushing between the tackles — proof that his work in the weight room to add more than 20 pounds on his frame since entering college has helped round him into a complete back. In ‘21, he will look to show that he’s capable of being the man over a full season.
If healthy, Peterson Jr. has a combination of size and speed that’s a rarity at the Group of Five level. Joseph and Williams as potential RB2 or RB3 options will give new offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner plenty of weapons at his disposal to incorporate ways to have multiple backs on the field at the same time.
Position Grade: A- The only thing keeping Price from being in the same discussion as UTSA’s Sincere McCormick is the lack of games. In spite of a passing attack that was one of the worst in college football last year — in addition to various absences across the offensive line, Price thrived last year.
He, along with Peterson Jr., Joseph and whichever running back emerges as the third back give FIU one of the deepest running back rooms in the conference. While the Panthers are working out the quarterback situation, having this level of talent at running back will be crucial in the early going of the 2021 season.