ISU rich with backfield talent

Zac Reicks

It is a problem Iowa State hasn’t had to deal with in a long time, having too much talent at one position.

Throughout the lean years of the 90s, Iowa State struggled to put a handful of talented players on the field, let alone stockpile them at one position.

The 2001 edition of the Cyclones contains loads of talent at the tailback position alone. Leading the charge for the Cyclone running backs is the Big 12’s leading rusher a season ago, Ennis Haywood.

The definition of an all purpose back, Haywood totaled 1,237 yards on 229 carries with 8 touchdowns in just 10 games. He also caught 25 passes for 211 yards and provided valuable leadership to the three young running backs that are being groomed to replace the senior.

There are three capable young men in the backfield that are looking to earn playing time when Saturday rolls around.

The most ferocious battle on the team this year will definitely be for the second-string running back position with a trio of sophomores back to duel for the job.

Michael Wagner looks to be a front runner for the position following a freshman performance that left many people relieved to know there wouldn’t be a drop off if Haywood ever went down.

Wagner burst onto the scene with a 170 yard, 2 rushing touchdown performance in a 33-26 win at Oklahoma State.

The shifty Cyclone also accounted for a third receiving touchdown as he garnered offensive most valuable player honors for the game.

The 170 yards was a record for a Cyclone freshmen and Wagner would follow that up with another 100 yard effort against Kansas in the last game of the season.

Also battling Wagner for the second string spot will be JaMaine Billups.

Highly touted as Nebraska’s best high school player in 1999, Billups came to Iowa State on a promise that he would get a chance to play running back. Billups ended up providing the Cyclones with one of their biggest highlights of the season in the Bowl game in a position he wasn’t quite so familiar with.

Making his first career appearance as a punt returner early in the fourth quarter, Billups electrified the partisan cardinal and gold crowd by breaking a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown and essentially putting the game out of reach.

This year Billups looks to make good on the promise to see more time in the backfield.

“I am definitely more anxious to get on the field this year, and when my time comes, I will do what I have to do,” Billups said.

The final member of the Cyclones version of the “four horsemen” is Hiawatha Rutland. Rutland brings a slashing style to the backfield that hasn’t been seen in awhile.

Accounting for 128 yards on just 18 carries last season, Rutland brings a gaudy 7.1 yards per carry average to the table.

Running back’s coach Mike Grant sees the abundance of talent as a good problem to have.

“I am looking forward to the situation we are going to face with all that talent and only one ball,” Grant said. “How we juggle that and maintain everyone’s psyche to focus on the team is going to be my biggest challenge.”

“Ennis, Hiawatha or anyone of those guys could probably start or play for a lot of teams out there,” Grant said.

A few years ago Cyclone standout J.J. Moses made a move to the flanker position from the backfield, but don’t look for that to happen with any of the backs this year.

“There is no chance what-so-ever that I will move any of those guys to wide receiver,” head coach Dan McCarney said.

In a season where many question marks will have to be answered, the coaches know that they can breathe easy when it comes time to deal with the running backs.

As Haywood, Wagner, Billups and Rutland set the tone for the ISU offense, don’t let them know that this is supposed to be a rebuilding year.

“Since I have been here all I have heard about is how we never get any respect at all,” Billups said. “Most people think that we have to rebuild this year, but truth is we are just going to reload.”