Much has been made this week about the fact that the next touchdown scored by Florida’s Tim Tebow will break Herschel Walker’s SEC career record for rushing touchdowns (49). Well, officially anyway.
But this is not another who’s-the-greatest-college-player-Tebow-or-Walker debate. There will be enough scribes weighing in on that this week as it is. And they’re both once-in-a-lifetime players, in my opinion.
What it got me thinking about is the type of tailback that Walker was. He was big — 6-foot-2, 222 pounds — and fast — with a 10.23-second, 100-meter dash still sitting fifth in the UGA track record book. He could run through you, jump over you or run by you. An athletic freak really.
There have been others of Herschel’s ilk, of course. Auburn’s Bo Jackson (6-1, 225) is the first who comes to everyone’s mind, though his college numbers pale in comparison. And of course Earl Campbell of Texas was big and strong (5-11, 232) and tremendously productive, but not nearly as fast. Ohio State’s Eddie George was even bigger (6-3, 235) but not as fast and he didn’t lift his team to such heights. And Jim Brown (6-2, 232) was around before any of them.
But where are these running backs today? Where is the next Herschel or Bo? Isn’t it about time for him to come along?
The reality is, athletes like Herschel simply aren’t playing tailback anymore. With the advent of more spread-option attacks and the pigeon-holing of recruiting, they’re lining up at another position.
“If you’re 6-feet or 6-1 especially nowadays you’re not really a running back,” said Chad Simmons, Southern recruiting manager for Scout.com. “You just don’t have those guys anymore. Most of those guys are moved to linebacker or even stand-up defensive ends.”
Few recall that All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers actually rushed for 3,501 yards and 46 touchdowns as a 6-foot-5 high school running back.
Georgia coach Mark Richt, for one, believes another Herschel Walker will emerge eventually.
“Well, I just think one day another guy will come along that fits that description and somebody will decide to not play him at linebacker and let him run the ball,” Richt said. ” Now I think Herschel was a one-of-a-kind, not to say Bo Jackson wasn’t special because he was. But they were a little bit different in their type. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another big, giant guy become the thing again. They just don’t come along that often.”
Certainly not lately. A quick check of the top running back prospects in the nation reveals very few Herschel-like prospects. The consensus top three in both Rivals.com and Scout.com are Lache Seastrunk (5-11, 190), Marcus Lattimore (6-0, 210) and Micheal Dyer (5-8, 200). The top-ranked back in Georgia, M.L. King’s Mack Brown, is 5-11, 185.
There are two big backs in the respective top 10s. Ohio State commitment Roderick Smith of Fort Wayne, Ind., is a 6-3, 220-pound running back. But his 40-yard time is listed as 4.80, hardly Herschel-esque. And Anthony Barr of Loyola, Calif., is 6-4, 225, and reportedly runs a sub-4.6. But most of the schools recruiting him (Notre Dame, UCLA, USC) don’t project him as a running back in college.
The closest thing we’ve probably had lately is Wisconsin’s 6-foot-1, 248-pound back John Clay. But he was redshirted as a freshman and hasn’t been nearly as productive as the aforementioned stars.
Georgia has a bigger back right now in sophomore Richard Samuel (6-2, 220) but he’s had fumble and production issues and may end up at linebacker before it’s all over.
“Haven’t seen it,” Simmons, who travels the South evaluating talent, said of a Herschel-like backs. “ Guys like Herschel just haven’t come along. If there is another Herschel that comes along he’ll probably play linebacker. It’s just hard to find a back with that size, that kind of vision and that kind of explosion.”
Not many quarterbacks like Tebow either, for that matter. But that’s a discussion for another day.