When a team loses its top two running backs, the result usually isn't good. When those two players combined for over half of the team’s total offense the previous season, the prospect of replacing them is downright frightening.
But that is the task for Mesa Community College football coach Dan Dunn. With Austen Collins and Jeremiah White off to four-year colleges (Collins to Southeast Missouri State and White to Missouri Western), the Thunderbirds head into the 2005 season in search of a capable back — or backs — to fill in.
“I don’t think you ever replace somebody of the caliber of those two kids,” Dunn said. “The young men we have aren’t quite at that level, but they’re good, competent backs. I think we’ll be OK.”
The Thunderbirds have four running backs looking to fill the void, most notably Jacob Richardson and Bobby Ili. Richardson played for the Thunderbirds two seasons ago as a wide receiver, and has returned this year and impressed in the backfield.
“We weren’t getting what we wanted out of the running backs due to eligibility, so we tried Jacob in there and he’s done a great job for us,” Dunn said.
Ili, a freshman recruit from Gilbert who rushed for 1,269 yards in his senior season, will platoon with Richardson at halfback.
Sophomore Zack Bahl and Oregon transfer Ryan Hastie will split time at fullback.
The strength of the Thunderbirds squad will be its defense, where 10 sophomores are expected to start.
Mesa finished last year 6-4 overall and 5-4 in Western States Football League play and is 25th in the nation in the NJCAA preseason poll.
Just up the road is the WSFL’s defending champion, Scottsdale Community College. The Artichokes, ranked 17th, finished last year 8-1 in conference, edging out Dixie State College for the league crown.
SCC loses all-league passer Dexter Hill as well as running back Darius Cade. Preseason All-American defensive end Louis Williams returns to anchor the defense.
Scottsdale hosts Copper State at 7 p.m. today. Mesa will scrimmage the University of Redlands in Redlands, Calif., tonight.