Daily Egyptian

Walter plans to lead Saluki backfield to new heights

By Thomas Donley, @TdonleyDE

With only one member with Division I experience, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical of SIU football’s backfield. 

Cameron Walter doesn’t agree with that skepticism. 

The redshirt sophomore running back tweeted March 22 the Saluki ground game would “be a force,” owning up to the statement. 

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“Being the only returner, I felt like I had to take ownership and take the bull by the horns,” Walter said. “With the running backs that are coming in, hopefully we will be successful.” 

Walter, who ran for 323 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries in 12 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, has embraced his role as the leader of his position group after the departures of Mika’il McCall and leading rusher Malcolm Agnew. 

Walter’s breakout game came at Missouri State on Nov. 8 when he ran for 210 yards on 37 carries in place of the injured Agnew. 

Walter spent his offseason training alongside Agnew as he prepares for the NFL Draft, which takes place from April 28 to 30. 

Running backs coach Larry Warner said Walter has taken senior-style leadership over his less experienced teammates. 

“He took all these new guys and younger guys under his wing,” Warner said. “He’s definitely stepped into the role of a leader.” 

The rest of the backfield is unproven at the Football Championship Subdivision level, consisting of redshirt freshmen Phillip Frangello, Jonathon Mixon, Tanner Smith and transfer juniors Aaron Stanton and Connor Schrader. 

Stanton ran for 770 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games as a sophomore last fall at Ventura College, a member of the California Community College Athletic Association.

Schrader amassed 738 yards and four touchdowns in 11 games at College of the Siskiyous, also in the CCCAA. 

Frangello ran for 1,712 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior at Carterville High School in 2013.

Mixon ran for more than 2,000 yards in his career at Galesburg High School. 

Smith was a three-year starter at Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., before missing his senior season with a torn ACL. He rushed for 2,600 yards and 23 touchdowns in his high school career. 

Walter said the backfield’s lack of experience and consequential lack of success means the Saluki backs have to create their own standards at this point in spring practice. 

“The team is still coming together,” Walter said. “The running backs, we’re trying to set our identity, trying to set goals and strive toward them.” 

Warner said although Walter has the most experience, he makes sure all his backs know they have a chance to earn playing time. 

“I tell them each and every day, ‘I don’t have a starting running back,’” Warner said. “I have guys that come in and rotate in see who’s going to compete. I feel like we have a lot of guys with opportunities right now.” 

Head coach Dale Lennon, however, said Walter is the Salukis’ No. 1 running back and the battle for the second spot is wide open.

“Aaron Stanton has done very well and so has Connor Schrader,” Lennon said. “It’s going to be a bit of a committee there, but it’s a position we’re still evaluating. We need quality depth, and that’s what we’re working towards.”

 Thomas Donley can be reached at [email protected] or at 536-3311 ext. 269.

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