Daily Egyptian

SIU running backs carrying big expectations

Then-junior running back Aaron Stanton makes a block as he runs with the ball on April 14, 2015, during an SIU scrimmage. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

Then-junior running back Aaron Stanton makes a block as he runs with the ball on April 14, 2015, during an SIU scrimmage. (DailyEgyptian.com file photo)

By Jacob Gaertner

Saluki football had a crowd of inexperienced running backs trying to prove themselves last season. This year, the team has the opposite problem.

After the squad consistently used four different running backs last season, coach Nick Hill said he wants his backs to build momentum during games this time around.

“It’s hard to rotate four or five guys,” he said. “You want to give them an opportunity to get in a groove, which is hard to do if they’re only getting a few carries.”

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In 2015, an SIU running back had double digit carries in only five games, one of which exceeded 12 carries.

“It’s nice when you have that guy that can get in a rhythm,” Hill said. “And by the third, fourth quarter, he’s racking up carries and seeing things [in the defense to exploit].”

Hill hasn’t yet decided which of the running backs can be that guy, but complimented sophomore Daquan Isom’s explosiveness and big play ability.

Last season, Isom led the running backs with 548 yards, averaging seven per carry. He also added four touchdowns on the ground.

Although he came up short of the 10 carries per game necessary to be eligible, Isom’s seven yards per carry would have ranked seventh in the FCS.

“He’s a super talented guy,” offensive coordinator John Van Dam said of Isom, who was named Tuesday as one of 30 players on the Football Championship Subdivision Performer of The Year award watch list. “He makes plays and he’s hard to tackle.”

Freshman running back Daquan Isom runs with the ball during SIU's 38-31 overtime victory against Youngstown State University during the homecoming game Oct. 24 at Saluki Stadium. (DailyEgyptain.com file photo)

Freshman running back Daquan Isom runs with the ball during SIU’s 38-31 overtime victory against Youngstown State University during the homecoming game Oct. 24 at Saluki Stadium. (DailyEgyptain.com file photo)

Isom, senior Aaron Stanton, sophomore Jonathan Mixon and junior Cameron Walter will be a part of the running back rotation in 2016.

“I expect us to be the powerhouse of the offense,” Stanton said. “To be the guys that make the play that sparks the whole team.”

Big plays were not a rarity last year for the Salukis, who ranked 16th in yards per play out of 123 teams.

Van Dam said true freshman D.J. Davis has impressed him during training camp.

Davis, a 5-foot-8 running back from American Heritage High School in Pompano Beach, Fla., was recruited mostly as a cornerback before switching to his other high school position.

Players race for the ball during SIU's fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Players race for the ball during SIU’s fall football scrimmage Saturday at Saluki Stadium in Carbondale. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

Even though the Salukis are returning every running back who received a carry in 2015, a big piece of the running game will be absent this season.

Former quarterback Mark Iannotti was the leading rusher for the Salukis last season and the only player to exceed 80 rushing attempts. He had 179.

“We might go a while before a guy is involved that much,” Hill said. “That was just a strength of Mark’s and we played to it.”

MORE: SIU football building family atmosphere on and off the field

It appears that this season’s potential quarterbacks can carry some of the load as well. In Saturday’s scrimmage, quarterbacks ran for a combined 62 yards on 17 carries — more than the six running backs who combined for 21 yards on 13 carries.

SIU is coming of a 3-8 season, its worst since 2001, despite having the fifth best offense in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Staff writer Jacob Gaertner can be reached at [email protected] or at on Twitter @JGaertnerDE.

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