Oct 5, 2013; Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (28) runs the ball in the third quarter against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Michigan Stadium. Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan Football: 10 former running backs who could easily play today

Hopefully, the 2014 season will fare much better for Michigan’s running backs than what happened in 2013.

Tailback Fitz Toussaint was Michigan’s leading rusher with just 648 net yards,  an average of 54 yards per game.

Granted, Toussaint was coming off a serious leg injury suffered late in the 2012 season, but his totals were nothing like the 1044 yards he gained in 2011 (playing along side QB Denard Robinson).

Just as disappointing were the results turned in by the pair of highly regarded running backs, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith. The two freshmen managed just 387 yards  between them last season.

The arrival of new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, the expectation of an improved o-line, the return of running back Drake Johnson from knee surgery, and Ross Douglas making the switch from defense, should all contribute to better tailback numbers. Of course, improved quarterback play will help too.

But are there any All-Americans on the horizon? Maybe should we settle for All-Big Ten?

Well, before Rich Rodriguez brought the spread offense to Ann Arbor, Michigan featured several outstanding running backs,  for instance,  Anthony Thomas,  Butch Woolfolk, Tyrone Wheatley , Michael Hart and Tim Biakabatuka.

Any of these, in their prime, could probably step in and win a starting job.

Here are a few of the past stars. The statistics speak for themselves:

Anthony Thomas (1997-2000) was one of Michigan’s most versatile running backs.

Blessed with both size and speed, Thomas was named MVP in both the 1999 and 2001 Citrus Bowls. The 6’2″, 221-pounder played sparingly during Michigan’s 1997 championship season, before cranking it up during his final three campaigns.
Thomas gained 4,062 yards during that time, while posting nine 100-yard games during his senior season. His best effort was a 228-yard day against Illinois in 2000. He finished his career with 4,472 yards and a school record 55 touchdowns. Thomas was the NFL’s rookie of the year in 2001.
Born in Zaire and raised in Canada, Tim Biakabutuka (1993-1995) went on to set Michigan’s 1995 single season rushing record.

Still standing today, Tim put the explanation point on the 1,818-yard campaign with a 313-yard performance (2nd all time) in a 31-23 win against Ohio State (Nov.25, 1995.)

Biakabutuka gained 2,810 yards in his three-year career, before playing six injury-riddled years with the NFL Carolina Panthers.

He is currently the running backs coach for the NFL Buffalo Bills.

Michael Hart (2004-07) will be best known for his post-game “little-brother” comment after the 28-24 win over Michigan State in 2007.

The Spartans have since won five out of the last six in the series.

Michigan State pretends the comment helped fuel their fire, but one thing’s for sure, Hart ran all over the Spartans.

In four games against the Green and White, Hart ran for 225, 222, 125 and 112 yards (all Michigan wins).

Hart, who currently holds Michigan career records for most rushing attempts (1,105)  and most yards (5,040), is also the Michigan career leader in avg. yards per game (117.2), most 100-yard plus games, 250-yard plus games and 200-yard plus games. Hart is also the season leader for most 200-yard plus games.

Tyrone Wheatley (1991-94) was one of Michigan’s best all-around athletes. During his senior year, Wheatley impressively won the Big Ten 110-meter hurdles championship.

On the football field,  Wheatley earned the 1993 Rose Bowl MVP with a 235-yard, 15-carry performance against Washington. Wheatley holds the Michigan single-season yards-per-carry record with 7.3. His 4,178 career yards places him fifth on the all-time Michigan yards-rushing list.

Wheatley played 10 years in the NFL, four with the New York Giants and six with Oakland.

Like  Wheatley, Butch Woolfolk (1978-81) was also a track star for Michigan, He still holds the Michigan record for the outdoor 200-meters at 20.59.

Woolfolk was just another in the long list of Michigan tailbacks with both speed and power. He accumulated 16 100-yard games in his career, and rushed for 29 TDs. His 3,861 yards is sixth all-time at Michigan.

In an unusual occurrence, Woolfolk was named MVP in two Bowl Games the same calendar year. First, Woolfolk gained 187 yards in Michigan’s 23-6 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 1981).

Then, Woolfolk gained 193 yards in Michigan’s 33-14 win over UCLA at the Bluebonnet Bowl (Dec. 31, 1981).

Woolfolk played seven years in the NFL, rushing for 1923 yards, and catching 187 passes.

Bo Schembechler recruited Jamie Morris (1984-87) to be a kickoff returner.

At 5’7″ he was thought to be too short to last as a running back.

But by the third game of his freshman season, Morris had proved everyone wrong.  He would be the starting tailback the balance of his career.

Morris finished his career with 4,393 yards, fourth on the all-time Michigan list.

His 1987 total of 1,703 yards is also third. Morris saved his best day for last. In the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl, he scored on runs of 25, 14, and 77 yards on the way to a 236-yard performance.

Morris was selected in the third round of the NFL draft, and spent two seasons with Washington and one with New England.

Rob Lytle (1973-76) passed away in his hometown of Fremont, Ohio from a heart attack November 20, 2010.

Lytle was a fan favorite who had the right combination of size and speed. His fine senior season capped off a Michigan career where he accumulated 3,317 yards, eighth all-time for a Wolverine.
Lytle, who ran for 1,469 (7th) yards in 1976, did it with a 6.65 per-carry average (5th).
The 6-1, 200-pounder played seven seasons for the Denver Broncos. rushing for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 61 passes for 562 yards and two scores.
It rarely comes up for debate, but how long will Ron Johnson (1966-68) hold Michigan’s single game rushing record?  His 347-yard performance came at Michigan Stadium on a wet, nasty day during a victory over Wisconsin in 1968. (Of course, Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game major league hitting streak was set in 1941).
The running back finished the 1968 season with 1,391 yards and his three-year career with 2,440. Johnson, who graduated from Michigan’s Ross School of Business, had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons with the New York Football Giants.
Billy Taylor (1969-71) was just one of many heroes in the 24-12 upset over Ohio State in 1969. Taylor picked up 84 tough yards as the Wolverines spoiled the Buckeyes’ season.
The week before, “B.T.” put on quite a show against Iowa. He ran for 225 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan took care of the Hawkeyes, 51-6. Taylor finished with 14 100-yard games in his career, and finished with 3,072 rushing yards, ninth on Michigan’s all time list.
Professionally, Taylor played a partial season with the CFL Calgary Stampeders.
Chris Perry (2000-03) left his best for last. He scored four touchdowns in the final game of his career, as Michigan beat Florida, 38-30 in the 2003 Outback Bowl.
The Bowl victory capped off a fine senior season for Perry who ended the campaign with 1,674 yards. He also won the Big Ten MVP along with the Doak Walker award, given to the nation’s top running back. Perry completed his stay at Michigan with 3,696 yards, seventh on the all-time Michigan list.
He was drafted in the first round by the NFL Cincinnati Bengals but had a injury-prone six-year career. ♦

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff – Joel Greer

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