When Fort Valley State starting running back Seth Hill was lost for the year after an injury in the season opener against Valdosta State, head coach Donald Pittman knew that his teams running game had taken a severe hit.
But after the initial shock, Pittmans team has moved on and put two solid efforts together on the ground with three different backs handling the load. Converted quarterback Malcolm Eady rushed for a game-high 80 yards in a loss against Savannah State and added 46 more in the Wildcats first win of the season over Clark Atlanta. Junior Nick McDaniels, a former walk-on who had only 10 total carries in the first two games, had a game-high 16 carries for 89 yards in the last game, with three of them in the second overtime on the game-winning drive.
Add Clemson transfer Michael Bellamy to the list, and Pittman believes he has a solid group of ballcarriers.
We have been pleased with the way these guys have responded to losing Seth, said Pittman, whose team travels to Augusta to meet SIAC rival Benedict on Saturday. I would say that Malcolm is the starter right now, but we will go with whoever is the hot back. Once we found out that Eugene Smith was going to be steady as our quarterback, we looked for ways to get Malcolm into the game with Eugene because it gives us so many options.
So far he has played very well and given us a spark when he is in the game.
McDaniels is probably the most interesting story of the three backs. The 27-year-old former Marine, with the nickname White Lightning, did not even play high school football but never lost his love for the game. He has been used in several roles during his two years with the Wildcats, but now finds himself as one of the main running backs.
Its the reason why I have continued to work so hard, said McDaniels, a Northside graduate. I had always hoped to get the chance to get on the field more and getting 16 carries in the last game was almost like a dream come true. I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win football games, and if it takes me carrying the ball or blocking or whatever, I love having the ball in my hands though.
Pittman was surprised when it was mentioned how old McDaniels was.
I actually didnt realize he was 27, Pittman said. I knew that he was a little older, but the way he goes hard all the time, you would think he was just an energetic 19 years old. He earned the chance to play and be a leader on this team by the way he worked this summer. I think I saw him every single day for two hours.
Bellamy is just a few years away from gaining more than 300 yards as a Clemson freshman.
He is coming along, and we are still waiting for him to have one of those quality games we know he is capable of, Pittman said. The depth of our running backs has turned into a blessing for us, and they all know they cant miss a beat if they want playing time.