Spring Ball Preview: Kelly or Coleman?

The talk of the scout team last fall was none other than true freshman running back Duane Coleman, but Yusef Kelly will inherit the starting spot in the backfield this spring. Can he hold off one of the most explosive players on the Tigers' 2003 roster?

Walterboro native Yusef Kelly exploded onto the scene as a true freshman back in 2000 by jumping into the top 10 of the conference in rushing just three weeks into the season.

Using his unique ability to cut on a dime, Kelly offered hope to a running game that was seemingly centered around Woodrow Dantzler and his ability to get up field on the quarterback draw.

But after consistently showcasing his talents against some of the weaker opponents of that exciting season, he just disappeared- literally.

After seeing significant playing time in early season blowouts against Missouri, Wake Forest, and Duke, head coach Tommy Bowden decided against using him as the season wore on.

Senior running back Travis Zachery and sophomore Bernard Rambert received the bulk of the carries the rest of the year, and Yusef simply sat on the bench and waited for his time in the spotlight.

After amassing 243 yards (good for third best on the team) his freshman year, Kelly then decided to redshirt his sophomore season in hopes of securing more playing time later in his career.

He would return last year to rush 125 times for 520 yards and a respectable 8 touchdowns, but the same "spring in his step" that was seen his freshman year, was nowhere to be found.

Kelly added about 15 pounds to his frame and ultimately changed the nature of his running style. By bulking up, he no longer tried to run around the defense, he tried to run over it.

"Yusef Kelly, he's a very tough, hard-nosed, aggressive runner," said Bowden. "And he's got a couple of more years here with us to do some good things."

This spring, Kelly will return to the practice fields as the Tigers' clear-cut starter at running back. With three years of experience under his belt, he'll have the opportunity to become the featured back in 2003.

Or will he?

Kelly will face some stiff competition from redshirt freshman Duane Coleman, one of the top running backs to ever play high school football in the state of Florida.

To put it in the words of offensive coordinator Brad Scott, "Duane Coleman gives us something that we've been missing on this football team."

While most people have yet to see him in action in full pads, understand that several of the beat writers that follow the Tigers and even his fellow teammates like to call Duane Coleman, "The Truth."

"The Truth" meaning that he's the real deal in the backfield.

His senior year at Naples High School, Coleman rushed for 2,814 yards, averaged an amazing 11.4 yards per carry, scored 40 touchdowns, and added 203 yards and a couple of scores in the Class 5A State Championship game.

This spring, Coleman will finally be unleashed and the rest of the world will have the opportunity to see what he can do on against the Tigers' first team defense.

But will it be enough to overtake Yusef Kelly?

One of the popular rumors floating around the internet is that Coleman could claim the starting running back position by the fall, and they Kelly would then move down to fullback and serve as Coleman's primary blocker out of the I-formation.

Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. Tommy Bowden will want to see which back has the "hot-hand" on gameday, and he'll then ride him for all he's worth.

In other words, expect the same system we've seen with Bernard Rambert, Travis Zachery, and all of the other running backs that have been in the mix in each of the last four years.

Should Coleman begin to assert himself, he'll get more playing time, but he'll have to prove that he's the man on the field before overtaking Yusef Kelly as the starting running back.

However, playing behind a revamped offensive line this spring should help both running backs considerably.

In fact, the entire coaching staff has placed such an emphasis on the running game this offseason, that we shouldn't be surprised to see one, if not both of these running backs, have a breakout year in 2003.

CUTigers.com Top Stories