Who knew that the Class of 2012 featured so many talented running back prospects that would impact their respective teams this season? During the last recruiting cycle, most felt it was a good year at the position, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Several special players have emerged, however.
From the dynamic duo at Georgia to the leading rusher at Alabama being a true freshman to the emergence of a top talent from the pack at LSU, the Southeastern Conference certainly has featured its share of top true freshman backs. Likewise in the Atlantic Coast Conference where several true frosh have given their teams a lift in the running game. Texas and Arizona State also are led in rushing yards by true freshmen.
Here are eleven Class of 2012 running backs making their mark on college football this season. Of note is that there are three players from the state of North Carolina on this list.
Note: Click on start photo feature for a look at their rankings as prospects
Wes Brown, Maryland
It has been a struggle for the Terps this season on offense as four quarterbacks have gone down with season-ending injuries, but Brown, along with fellow Good Counsel (Md.) product and receiver Stefon Diggs, have been bright spots. Brown leads Maryland with 382 yards on 90 carries and has two touchdowns this season.
J.C. Coleman, Virginia Tech
The Hokies have had a down year, especially on offense, but Coleman has been a bright spot. The 5-foot-7, 192-pounder from Oscar Smith High in Chesapeake, Va., leads all Virginia Tech running backs with 361 yards on 61 attempts, including a 5.9 yards-per-carry average. Coleman also has averaged 22.1 yards per kickoff return this season.
Jela Duncan, Duke
In the Carolinas last recruiting cycle, the buzz among recruiting analysts and high school coaches was about how whatever program signed Duncan out of Charlotte (N.C.) Mallard Creek would be getting a steal. In the early stages of his Duke career, he hasn’t disappointed. He leads the Blue Devils, who are bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994, in rushing with 413 yards on 87 carries.
D.J. Foster, Arizona State
Foster was listed as an athlete coming out of Saguaro High in Scottsdale, Ariz., last recruiting cycle, but the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder has made his mark this season for the Sun Devils as a running back. He leads Arizona State with 393 yards on 72 carries and also has caught 31 passes for 463 yards and four touchdowns this year.
Johnathan Gray, Texas
The consensus on Gray during the 2012 cycle was that if he could stay healthy, the sky was the limit. Well, so far, so good. He leads the Longhorns with 533 yards on 101 carries and has a rushing touchdown to his credit. In a backfield that utilizes Joe Bergeron and former five-star Malcolm Brown, that’s impressive for a true freshman.
Todd Gurley, Georgia
Gurley, from Tarboro (N.C.) High, leads the Bulldogs, who are one win from a second straight SEC East title, with 857 yards on 138 carries and a team-high 10 rushing touchdowns. He’s also impressed in the return game with 243 kick return yards, including a 100-yarder for a touchdown in a season-opening win against Buffalo. He’s on his way to being a 1,000-yard rusher as a true freshman and he has competition for carries from a member of his own class.
Jeremy Hill, LSU
Hill originally was a Class of 2011 recruit, but did not enroll until the Class of 2012 and thus is a true freshman this season. Given LSU’s stacked stable of backs, he wasn’t able to break out until a 23-21 win against South Carolina on Oct. 13, when he ran for 124 yards on 17 carries, including a game-clinching 50-yard run in the fourth quarter. Since then, he’s had two consecutive 100-yard rushing games in a 24-19 win at Texas A&M (127 yards on 18 carries and a TD) and in last Saturday’s 21-17 home loss to top-ranked Alabama (107 yards on 29 carries and a TD). In crowded backfield full of potential, Hill’s star has shined brightest in recent weeks.
Duke Johnson, Miami (Fla.)
There is little doubt that Johnson has been one of the most electric players in all of college football this season. He as also proven to be a dependable running back between the tackles. To date, Johnson leads the Canes with 555 rushing yards on 94 attempts and also has caught 23 passes for 200 yards. Johnson, from Norland High in Miami, also is No. 9 nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 31.4 yards in that department.
Keith Marshall, Georgia
Marshall was one of the most celebrated running back recruits in the country for 2012 and followed through on a long-time lean to the Bulldogs with a commitment and enrollment. This season, he’s second behind Gurley with 520 yards on 85 carries and five touchdowns, including a 75-yarder. Marshall has stayed healthy and showed off his speed, which was a huge attribute coming out of Millbrook High in Raleigh, N.C.
Rushel Shell, Pittsburgh
Shell, from Hopewell High in Aliquippa, Pa., was one of the most celebrated recruits in Western Pennsylvania in the past decade and elected to stay home and play for the Panthers. He first made his presence felt in a 35-17 win over then-Top 25 Virginia Tech on Sept. 15 when he barreled his way for 157 yards. He splits carries with Ray Graham, who is a pretty talented back himself, yet Shell has put up a respectable 443 yards on 83 carries and four touchdowns this season.
T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Like many of the others, Yeldon, from Daphne (Ala.) High, shares carries with Eddie Lacy for Alabama, but he leads the top-ranked Tide with 725 rushing yards on 104 carries (7.0 yards per carry) and has 122 receiving yards on eight receptions, including a 28-yard game-winning touchdown reception on a screen pass in Saturday night’s 21-17 win at LSU. If you just looked at every carry by every freshman back this year and evaluated it that way, Yeldon or perhaps Hill would be the most impressive.
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