Running backs not looking over their shoulders

Maddox, Miles, Giles and Co. ready to welcome Lattimore

semerson@thestate.comMarch 19, 2010 

USC's Brian Maddox.

C. ALUKA BERRY/CABERRY@THESTATE.COM

Marcus Lattimore has been greeted as the savior of the USC football team's running game - maybe even the team as a whole.

So how does that make the team's current running backs feel?

Kenny Miles, who led the Gamecocks in rushing in 2009, has three years of eligibility remaining. He shrugged off the acclaim being given to Lattimore.

"That's recruiting; it's going to happen every year," Miles said after a spring practice this week. "Somebody's gonna come in, a new coach or a new player. So, really, the only thing you can do is focus on what you need to do to get better and do your job."

Senior Brian Maddox began last season as the starter and will get another shot at the job.

"It's nothing to me," Maddox said of the Lattimore hype. "Don't get me wrong, he's a great guy, but he's a freshman."

Maddox, Miles and the other veteran tailbacks saw a similar phenomenon last year, though on a smaller scale. Jarvis Giles was a highly touted freshman who enrolled in the spring, unlike Lattimore.

Giles showed the kind of burst that some of the other backs lacked. But he annoyed coaches by doing too much side-to-side running rather than hitting holes.

Maddox, who weighs about 45 pounds more than Giles, emerged as a good goal-line back, rushing for seven touchdowns. But his problem was getting near the goal line; Maddox's per-carry average of 3 yards kept him from holding down the starting spot.

So the job belonged to Miles for most of the season because he was viewed as the most well-rounded back. Eric Baker was plagued by injuries, and fan favorite Bryce Sherman - the 5-foot-4 former track star - was mainly used on kick returns.

The same group is taking part in spring practice, except for Baker, who is out with a torn ACL.

All are aware that Lattimore, ranked by some recruiting services as the top high school back in the nation, is a looming presence. "And, of course, we've got Lattimore coming in over the summer," Miles said.

In the meantime, the veterans have the chance to get a leg up. It probably will be a surprise if a single starter emerges, especially in this age of tailback tandems. USC would prefer to identify one or two primary backs.

Off the field, the running backs are trying to become a closer-knit group. Miles said the players sometime meet on campus and have held weekend barbecues. There's also talk of a pizza night.

It might seem strange for a group of players competing for a spot to want to bond, but the players said it would help. Maddox, who took a recruiting visit to Clemson, noticed that running backs C.J. Spiller and James Davis were tight.

"They were good, obviously, together," Maddox said." You need that."

By the sound of it, Lattimore will be welcomed to the group with open arms. Miles said he got to know Lattimore on Lattimore's official visit, and said the former Brynes High standout "seems like a well-rounded kid."

But after all the get-togethers and team-building, it still will be a competition for carries.

"I still think it's going to be one or two guys that's out there to stay," Maddox said. "But who knows? Who knows what's going to happen? The middle of the season, the first game, you never know. We're gonna have to wait and see."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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