Before last year, one had to go back more than a decade before finding a group of Aggie running backs who combined to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.
Enter first-year coach Ron Gould …
Taking over for 20-year UC Davis coach Bob Biggs, the former Cal assistant came with a reputation as a guy who could find the under-recruited nuggets; a halfback helper who had sent 10 of his protégés into the National Football League.
When Gould said his 2013 Aggies would run more — and effectively — he was’t kidding.
Gould found that diamond-in-the-rough in City College of San Francisco transfer Gabe Manzanares. Gould then put him in the nurturing hands of new offensive backfield coach Bryan Wright.
The result was a 1,285-yard season for Manzanares (complete with 10 touchdowns). For his efforts, Manzanares was named Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year.
What’s more, UCD pushed the chains for 2,071 gross yards. Minus the quarterback sacks, the net 1,828 yards created havoc during league play.
After an 0-4 start, the locals went 5-3 in league (where a majority of their damage was done) and Wright thinks there is more good stuff on the way.
“So far, so good,” the former Michigan assistant told The Enterprise after 10 days of camp. “I felt, in the first week, we picked up where we left off (last season).”
That’s especially good news since the Aggies ended 2013 by throttling Sacramento State, 34-7.
Despite Manzanares’ brilliant campaign, Wright and Gould insist no backfield spots have been won. Wright goes even further, saying the announcement about who starts against Stanford on Aug. 30 could “come just before that first game.”
“It really is one of those deals where it’s ‘May the best man win.’ It’s not like I play favorites or play seniors. It’s whoever is performing the best.
“They have to show me.”
Manzanares, entering his senior year, hasn’t had much of a chance to re-establish himself. A foot injury during the spring kept him in a walking boot during these early workouts. He is in cleats now and going gingerly through drills.
His 2013 backup, former Long Beach Poly star sophomore Manusamoa Luuga (239 yards rushing), looked sharp given the additional reps — but then so has old Aggie Nation friend Colton Silveria.
Silveria, used primarily on special teams as a junior (six carries for 18 yards), was once the Aggies’ starting tailback, gaining 590 yards in 2012 — leading the team in rushing in a 4-7 season.
Luuga, injured against Nevada early last season, has missed some time again this summer (wrist). However on Tuesday, Wright insists a full complement of running backs will be available come the opening whistle.
“It’s just camp,” the coach said of the almost 22 red-shirted players watching Tuesday’s workout. “It’s some of those camp woes. That’s all it is.
As for Manzanares’ status?
“He’ll be fine when the season starts,” reiterated Wright.
Regardless of who is carrying the load, any UCD back would have elevated confidence knowing fullback Dalton Turay will be in the convoy.
Turay, an All-Big Sky Conference preseason pick a year ago, carried the ball but three times for 12 yards and no scores in Gould’s first year. But Manzanares repeatedly has said he wouldn’t have been close to the runner he became without the lead blocking of the senior from Amador Valley High.
Two years ago, Turay scored a team-high seven touchdowns while pounding it inside for 237 yards.
“He is Mr. Dependable,” said Wright of Turay, who caught 13 passes for 159 yards and a TD in 2013. “If I need him to play tailback, he’ll play tailback. When he plays fullback, he’s great at it. It’s comforting to know if I need him elsewhere, I’ve got him in an emergency.
“Regardless, he’ll do a great job. Such a leader. Not a rah-rah guy, but leads by example. And it shows on the field.”
UCD has a lot of cards to play in the running game. An added dimension that could give even more breathing room for Wrights’ guys is a quarterback/wideout combination that is sure to get the ball deeper, spreading the field for more rushing options.
“The sky’s the limit for the team and these running backs,” said Wright, who added that finding enough playing time for all the talent could be the biggest ground-game challenge. “It’s a great problem to have: each one of those guys is talented and could start.
“You want that as a running backs coach.”
Notes: Manzanares, already on the College Football Performance Award running back list, this week was named to the all-purpose runners CFPA watch list. … Wright on former Westlake High product Tavior Mowry, who is also in the tailback mix: “We use him a lot of places. Flank him out, slot him and he can also run between the tackles.” On Silveria: “It’s great to see Colton playing so well with that skill set of his and the energy he brings.” Silveria had a 73-yard “touchdown” in last week’s practice. And Wright’s take on Manu? “He brings a lot of power, a lot of speed, and he brings that mind set to the running back room. He’s a guy that keeps us together (with his attitude) because he’s very much a team player — our biggest fan, a cheerleader. If he’s not playing, he’s coaching. This is a new Manu. He came to camp focused, slim and trim.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-320-4456.