For Wayne State football, the running back position hasn’t just been a unit with the purpose of gaining tough yards and protecting the quarterback. In recent years it has been one of the most stable positions on the team.

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The first quarter of the WSU vs. SVSU game.

Since the turn of the century, eight WSU running backs have combined to rush 1,000 yards or more 14 times. This feat has occurred six times this decade. 

Senior running back James Hill said the legacy of the position isn’t lost upon the new players who join the team each year.

“Coming here you know running back is a vital point of not only the offense but the whole team, so a lot is expected of you,” Hill said. 

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Senior running back James Hill running the ball down the field. 

Head coach Paul Winters said having a strong running game fits the team perfectly.

“Our identity is one of toughness and physicality, so I think (the) running game is the epitome of a tough, physical football team,” Winters said.

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WSU player being tackled by SVSU players. 

This year, the position has seen such an abundance of options in the backfield that redshirt sophomores Donte McClure and King Sanders have occasionally lined up as wide receivers as a way to get them on the field. 

Winters said the biggest advantage of having so many options in the backfield is the ability to put anyone at the position in the game — should the need arise.

“The greatest benefit is that if someone gets injured, you have someone who has the ability to replace them,” Winters said. “You never want to be in a situation where you don’t have a running back going into a game because it makes you one dimensional.”

While graduate running back said it can be exciting to get the ball late in the game to seal a win, overall, it’s something the running backs expect to happen.

“We’re taught that the ball is going to be put in our hands (in the) beginning of the game, middle of the game (and the) end of the game, so we don’t necessarily get excited, we’re just doing our job,” Nicholas said. “Within the midst of the game, we’re just doing what we do (so) to us it’s just another carry (and) another play that we’re supposed to execute.”

Winters said when WSU’s running game is executing the game plan, it takes a toll on the other team mentally and physically.

“If you’re on the defensive side of the ball on the other side and we’re running the ball on you, and you know we’re going to run (it) and you can’t stop us that takes a mental toll on you and a physical toll because it just wears you out.”

Hill said it’s exciting to see the team have so much depth in the backfield. 

“When you have that ability to be able to pick each other’s minds and have different talents and combine them, it really differentiates us from any other running back group in the country.”


Matt Williams is sports editor of The South End. He can be reached at mattmwilliams86@gmail.com.

Teaser photo of running back James Hill courtesy of Mark Hicks.

All other photos are by Jonathan Deschaine. Jonathan is the multimedia editor at The South End. He can be reached at jonathan.deschaine@gmail.com.