2013 NMU Football Position-by-Position Season Preview: Running backs

MARQUETTE – The Northern Michigan University football team learned last season you can never have too many running backs.

The Wildcats lost leading rusher Prince Young to a suspension and three others – Wyatt Jurasin, Keon Collier and Trever Kruzel – to season-ending injuries.

Once again, the Wildcats’ backfield finds itself being tested after the last back standing in 2012 – senior Casey Cotta – was lost two weeks into training camp with a torn Achilles.

This time around, head coach Chris Ostrowsky is more than ready to absorb whatever may come his way at running back.

“It’s a talented group, no question about it,” Ostrowsky said about the backs prior to the preseason. “When you look at a successful football program, there’s never just one (running back). That’s a pound-it-out position.

“That’s a place where you just get pounded. It’s one of those deals where you better have more than one.”

Senior quarterback Cody Scepaniak is the Wildcats’ leading returning rusher from 2012 after gaining 479 yards on 104 attempts.

That came after the loss of Young’s 545 yards to graduation and Cotta’s 398 yards in five games to injury.

Northern wouldn’t mind seeing Scepaniak put up even more yards on the ground this year in starting all 10 games instead of only five. But running backs coach Brian Mitz said its time for the Wildcats’ rushing attack to grow beyond the quarterback position.

It’s the only way the passing game can progress after back-to-back seasons in which the QB was the team’s second-leading rusher to Young, and back-to-back-to-back years of being in the bottom half of the league in rushing offense.

“It’s got to evolve this year,” Mitz said about the ground attack. “Once you have a great running game, you’re going to have a great passing game.”

With Cotta done, Northern will lean on Jurasin, a 6-foot-1, 227-pound sophomore out of Ishpeming High School, and Collier, a 5-8, 172-pound redshirt freshman.

Collier only appeared in two games last season as a true freshman, but finished fourth among his teammates in rushing.

He netted 75 yards on nine carries, and 30 yards on two catches, at Findlay (Ohio) in Week 1 and before breaking his leg in Week 2 against Wisconsin La Crosse, when he had 32 yards on five carries.

Ostrowsky said Collier is back to being the player he was before landing in a cast. Mitz forecasts the upside of Collier to be tremendous moving forward.

“He’s more confident than ever,” Mitz said about Collier. “So far this camp, he has excelled with his speed. It’s lightning fast.

“You can’t tell where he is behind the line of scrimmage and then all of a sudden, he bursts through the line and is going.”

Jurasin was just transitioning from linebacker to running back early on last season before injuries sidelined him. He’ll now be expected to shoulder most of the “battering ram” duties that would have originally been shared with Cotta.

True freshman Connor Schrader, at 5-8, 211-pounds, will also get some time in those situations.

If it’s all on Jurasin, however, the staff is OK with that. According to Ostrowsky and Mitz, no one had a better spring and summer leading into the preseason than Jurasin.

“Wyatt Jurasin is having an amazing camp,” Ostrowsky said. “He’s big, he’s fast, he’s strong. He does everything we ask him to do.

“He’s playing at a level that’s really high right now. He’s truly a 225-pound tailback. He hits it hard downhill.”