Who was the best? Clearly, Bo Jackson wears that mantel. Behind him it's not so clear. With apologies to the likes of Tommy Lorino, Fob James, Monk Gafford, Ed Dyas and the Hitchcock brothers, who were before my time, here is my Top 10:
1. Bo Jackson (1982-85). No contest here. Bo did things no running back before or since did or could do. I think my favorite Bo run was a short touchdown run against Nebraska when he was a freshman in 1982. Bo turned the corner and a Nebraska defender broke down to hit him at the one-yard line. Bo jumped over his head and into the end zone, untouched.
Regardless of the sport, Bo had a flair for the dramatic. One year, playing baseball at Alabama, Bo had struck out three times. When he took his position in centerfield, some fans on a beer truck well beyond the fence were taunting him. In his next at-bat, Bo hit the beer truck. One can only imagine what kind of numbers Bo would have piled up had Auburn run the I-formation his entire career. His first three seasons were spent in the wishbone. Auburn coaches and players from those wishbone days will tell you he was as good a blocker as he was a runner.
Bo Jackson joined Pat Sullivan as an Auburn player to win the Heisman Trophy.
2. Tucker Frederickson (1962-64). Frederickson was big, strong and fast in an era that produced mostly scatbacks. Not only was he the best SEC running back of his time, he was the best blocking back and the best defensive back. He rarely came off the field. The New York Giants made him the No. 1 pick in the 1964 NFL draft.
3. Rudi Johnson (2000). He only played one year, which some would say should move him lower. But in that one year, Johnson carried a rebuilding team short on talent to the SEC Championship Game. A lot of backs talk about being stronger in the fourth quarter than in the first. Johnson really was. I think he could have played back to back games on the same day without getting tired.
Rudi Johnson is still going strong as an NFL star.
4. Carnell Williams (2001-2004). Williams was one of the first big recruiting coups for Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, and he more than lived up to the hype. Had Williams not had his first two seasons cut short by freak injuries, he might have challenged Bo for the No. 1 spot on Auburn's all-time rushing list. He had the speed to go the distance and the power to move the pile. He was a leader and a good citizen at Auburn as he is today.
5. James Brooks (1977-80). Had Brooks played on better teams, he would have been a major threat to win the Heisman Trophy. You'd have to say the backfield that included him, Joe Cribbs and William Andrews running the veer was one of the best if not the best ever at Auburn. All three went on to stardom in the NFL.
6. Brent Fullwood (1982-86). Fullwood had it all--speed, power, elusiveness. Until his senior year in 1986, he was overshadowed by Jackson. He was the main man on offense on the 1986 team that went 10-2 and would have been a factor in the national championship race had it not been for upset losses to heavy underdogs Georgia and Florida.
7. Ronnie Brown (2001-2004). Had Brown had the opportunity for more than half a season to be the featured back, he'd probably be considerably higher on this list. When Williams was injured in 2002, Brown was spectacular for the remainder of the season. A sub-4.4 sprinter who weighed 230 pounds, he was everything you are looking for in a running back. He was a team player supreme, willing to block, catch, run or do whatever he was asked. Like Williams, he was a team leader and a role model on his way to being picked No. 2 in the NFL draft. And he still is today.
Ronnie Brown was one of the top players of the Tuberville Era.
8. Stephen Davis (1993-95). Davis was probably the closest Auburn back to Bo in terms of size and speed. He was the driving offensive force in 1994 and would have been in 1995 had Terry Bowden not made the puzzling decision to go to a spread offense and de-emphasize the running game.
9. Joe Cribbs. Growing up in Sulligent, Cribbs many figured he would go to Alabama, but Cribbs signed with Auburn and became an all-time great. He was a threat to score from anywhere on the field at any time.
Lionel James was a 1980s fan favorite at Auburn.
10. Lionel James (1980-83). Pat Dye had no idea what he had in James when he took over as Auburn coach in 1981. James, dubbed "Little Train," didn't look the part of a wishbone back, but he certainly played the part. He was a devastating blocker and a runner who could go the distance. He was the emotional leader for the 1983 SEC champions and went on to tremendous NFL career as a kick returner.
Honorable mention: James Bostic (1991-93), Terry Henley (1970-72), Jimmy Burson (1961-63), Kenny Irons (2005-2006), William Andrews (1975-78), Wallace Clark (1968-70), James Joseph, Stacy Danley, Heath Evans (1998-2000), Tommie Agee (1983-86), Mike Currier (1969-71), Mickey Zofko (1968-70), Fred Beasley (1994-97).
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