Spring Preview: Running Backs
April 4, 2016

The names are legendary. When you hear Darrell Thompson, Laurence Maroney or Marion Barber III, you instantly think of greatness. You think of records, broken tackles, long touchdown runs and hard-earned yards.

Thompson, Maroney and Barber III hold the top three sports in freshman rushing yards at Minnesota and ended their careers ranked first (Thompson 4,654), second (Maroney 3,933) and fourth (Barber III 3,276) in rushing yards, respectively.

Two new names – Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith – were written into the history books last season. Brooks rushed 119 times for 709 yards, which was the fourth-most ever by a Gopher freshman. Smith rushed 157 times for 670 yards, which ranks sixth all-time for a Minnesota freshman.

The future is certainly bright in the Minnesota backfield, and Brooks and Smith should only continue to get better.

Brooks rushed for seven touchdowns, which covered 75, 71, 40, 38, five and three yards (twice). He became the first Gopher since Maroney in 2005 to have four touchdown runs longer than 35 yards in one season. He also averaged 6.0 yards per carry, which is the 11th-best mark in school history and the third-best ever for a freshman behind Maroney (6.92 on 162 carries in 2003) and Barber III (6.28 on 118 carries in 2001). Brooks rumbled for 176 yards at Purdue and gained 174 yards against Illinois. Those marks rank eighth and 10th in single-game rushing records for a Minnesota freshman. Brooks also completed one pass last year, which was a 42-yard touchdown to Drew Wolitarsky at Iowa.

Smith, who rushed for two scores last season, made his collegiate debut against TCU and carried the ball 16 times for 88 yards and one score. He did not have a negative rush against TCU, as he averaged 5.5 yards-per-carry. His 88 yards against were the most by a Gopher freshman running back making his collegiate debut since Thomas Hamner ran for 158 yards on 22 carries on Sept. 7, 1996, at Northeast Louisiana (Amir Pinnix also rushed for 88 yards on 17 carries as a freshman in his collegiate debut against Toledo on Sept. 4, 2004). Smith would rush for 108 yards at Colorado State and also churned out 74 yards on 12 carries (6.2 average) against Michigan’s No. 1-ranked defense.

Both Brooks and Smith are threats in the passing game as well. Brooks caught 17 passes for 167 yards last season, while Smith made 16 receptions for 124 yards.

Minnesota has two more talented running backs in spring practice this year in redshirts Jonathan Femi-Cole and James Johannesson.

Femi-Cole is from Vaughan, Ontario, Canada and spent last season getting acquainted to college football. He attended St. Andrew’s College in Canada and played in eight games as a senior and rushed for 1,648 yards (137.3 yards-per-game) and 12 touchdowns. He also rushed 23 times for 137 yards and was named MVP in the 2014 National Underclassmen Combine All-American game in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Johannesson is a from Fargo, N.D. and set Fargo South High School records with 6,158 rushing yards and 81 total touchdowns. He became the first ever two-time Gatorade North Dakota Player of the Year. He rushed for 2,072 yards on 216 carries as a senior and scored a school-record 34 touchdowns (32 rushing). As a junior, he rushed for a school-record 2,671 yards on 266 carries and scored 30 touchdowns (29 rushing).
 

 

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