Marshall: Auburn's Running Back Tradition

When it comes to producing standout college running backs, no college has had more success than Auburn.

I close my eyes and I can still see...

*Ed Dyas scattering would-be tacklers like bowling pins, then stepping back and kicking a field goal.

*Jimmy Burson breaking open and running for a touchdown on the first play of scrimmage in a crucial game against Georgia Tech.

*Tucker Frederickson running with speed, grace and power, then playing like a monster on defense.

*Terry Henley running again and again and again for the 1972 Amazin's.

*James Brooks, at 180 pounds, looking up a defender to run over, then outrunning everyone else.

*Joe Cribbs seeming to be on cruise control, then racing away with a breath-taking burst of speed.

*William Andrews knocking linebackers cold as a blocker, then running like a tailback from his fullback position.

*Bo Jackson doing almost anything he wanted to against anyone he wanted to do it against.

*Lionel James and Tommie Agee running and blocking and making the wishbone a wonder to watch.

*Brent Fullwood displaying his spectacular combination of speed, power and elusiveness.

*James Bostic breaking away for the long touchdown run that finished off Alabama, gave Auburn a perfect season and put a signature on a great career in 1993.

*Stephen Davis showing a combination of speed and power second only to Bo.

*Rudi Johnson getting stronger and seemingly fresher as defenders got tireder and weaker.

*Heath Evans running, catching and blocking his way to the NFL.

*Carnell Williams running for daylight on an 80-yard touchdown dash on the first play from scrimmage against Alabama in 2003.

*Ronnie Brown playing the game unselfishly, running like a superstar when asked, catching the ball when asked, blocking when asked.

*Kenny Irons breaking free against LSU on one of the more spectacular single runs I've seen and playing the game hard week after week for the sheer joy of it.

All those players and more are part of an Auburn tradition that no school in the country can surpass. Miami and USC have their quarterbacks. Penn State has its linebackers.

At Auburn, it's running backs. They hold a special place in the history of Auburn football, starting well before my time.

As Auburn's running backs coach, Eddie Gran is the keeper of that tradition. And he embraces that role and the responsibility that comes with it enthusiastically

"To have that kind of group and that kind of reputation is special," Gran says. "It's a pretty big deal."

From that group, Gran has coached Johnson, Evans, Williams, Brown and Irons. And it is his job to make sure that the tradition continues. At Auburn, running backs are evaluated closely, selected carefully.

‘There's no doubt," Gran says. "Last year, we had three guys on our board we felt were as good as any in the country. One committed early somewhere else. Ours (Enrique Davis) committed early, too, so we didn't even get around to the third one. We were only going to take one. We are very selective.

"We've been able to do that the last few years, ever since the Carnell and Ronnie era. Rudi kind of started it off for us. It's big what Heath has done (in the NFL). It's been great for us, recruiting-wise."

Rudi Johnson has been one of the NFL's top backs since leaving Auburn.

Johnson, Evans, Stephen Davis, Williams and Brown played in the NFL last season. Irons will join them next season as Johnson's backup with the Cincinnati Bengals, giving Gran two former pupils on the same team.

"I think that's great," Gran says. "I talked to both of them on draft day. I said, ‘Rudi, you need to take care of this guy.' He said, ‘Coach, you know I've got him.' I don't think it could have worked out any better for Kenny."

Back at Auburn, the competition to replace Irons as the starting tailback, that position of honor and history, will heat up again in two-a-days. Brad Lester, Ben Tate, Mario Fannin and Carl Stewart were recruited like Enrique Davis, carefully evaluated and selected because Auburn coaches saw potential for stardom.

"It's a great thing to be a part of, for me and for the players," Gran says. "If you are a player and you look back and see who has been here and what they've done, you can't help but feel some responsibility to carry it on. We talk about it. We talk about living up to the tradition on and off the field. It's important."

No matter who is on campus, the search for the next one goes on. Only the best need apply. At Auburn, history demands it.

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