Who’s the man? Feature of deeper Lamar backfield yet to be identified

Published 11:44 pm Friday, August 4, 2017

BEAUMONT — The running back corps at Lamar was starting to get dry.

Kade Harrington, his season already cut short with a broken foot bone, graduated. Nederland freshman Austin Krautz took a majority of snaps in his place, but decided to leave the sport after the season.

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That left Derrion Randle and Emmanuel Atoyebi as the only returning lettermen in the backfield.

Now, the running back corps is replenished. First-year running backs coach Eric Buchanan counts eight working out at the position, although six are listed on the roster.

“It’s a much better core since I got here,” said Randle, a third-year sophomore from Navasota. “I think the goal for myself is to overcome past mistakes and overcome injures and fight through to become the difference-maker I can be.”

Randle is the leading returning rusher, but he totaled only 37 yards on 18 carries and did not score a touchdown. A high ankle sprain limited him during a 3-8 season when injuries hammered the Cardinals in key positions.

To put in perspective, Harrington and Krautz combined for 1,036 yards and five TDs.

That means Buchanan and first-year head coach Mike Schultz have a huge task of identifying the feature back by the Sept. 2 kickoff at North Texas.

“I don’t think we’ve come close to that, yet,” Schultz said. “We’ve had young kids step up. [Freshman] Myles Wanza has done a nice job and has started to come on, and there’s been several of them. But I don’t know that we’ve come close to stepping up and saying this is our guy.”

Luckily for Schultz and Buchanan, they have four more weeks to do that.

Lamar’s preseason camp practices aren’t open to the public, but Wanza’s name has floated around. The Summer Creek graduate was a finalist for the Greater Houston Offensive Player of the Year award who rushed for 22 touchdowns and more than 1,600 yards in nine games in 2016. Rutgers and Massachusetts also recruited Wanza, according to his Lamar bio.

To be the No. 1 guy, Wanza would have to top another newcomer in James White, although the graduate transfer who prepped at Pearland Dawson brings SEC experience to the table.

White rushed for 462 yards and seven touchdowns in three seasons at Texas A&M, with 62 yards and two scores coming against Lamar in a 73-3 Aggie rout three years ago.

“A&M was fun,” White said. “I loved the people and the alumni. I love A&M, but coming here was a big change for me. It helped me out a lot. I love it here.”

Buchanan has been impressed with the maturity White brings.

“This is not his first rodeo,” Buchanan said. “He does a great job being a mentor to the guys.”

White’s leadership is key to the first year of Lamar’s post-Harrington era. And what an era it was.

Harrington was runner-up to Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp for STATS National Offensive Player of the Year and the American Sports Network Player of the Year for the 2015 season. Five different organizations named him the all-time leading rusher in Cardinal history an All-American.

The Dallas Cowboys even invited Harrington to minicamp, but he was cut well before training camp commenced.

“He did a lot of things right,” Randle said. “He was one person you could honestly depend on to do things right. We all tried to follow his steps.”

While Buchanan has a much deeper backfield to work with, he’s seen for himself the impression Harrington left on a program that’s received most of its national attention from him.

“I didn’t get to see him live, but what he put on tape is some good stuff, and the kids here who saw him last year have a lot of respect for him,” Buchanan said.

Week 1 report

To sum up his first week of preseason camp at Lamar, Schultz used one word — challenging.

“We’ve had to move practice back a couple of times,” he said. “We’ve had to move it up. We’re trying to survive that. We’re trying to work around the weather. Of course, you have that every day in Beaumont. You get weather in the morning and weather in the evening, so it’s a crapshoot. The kids have been trying to battle the heat and the weather, too.”

Lamar has utilized game officials during practice this week but did not scrimmage. Schultz said the crew has helped Lamar correct mistakes that lead to penalty flags while each official works on his own mechanics.

“They help us do things in 7-on-7,” Schultz said. “They’ll throw the pass interference either way, offense or defense. They’ll let us know if we’re holding and stuff like that, so we can get it corrected and do our teamwork.”

But progress has been made in one week, Schultz said. The Cardinals have installed their base spread offense and multiple three-man front defense while addressing special teams and fundamentals.

“It’s been since May since we had a practice,” Schultz said. Lamar began drills Monday.

“You’ve got to get your timing back and knock some of the rust off. That’s what we’ve been trying to do.”

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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