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.
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.
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.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff – Joel Greer