Junior Lionel Gates and sophomore Eric Shelton could quite possibly be the best one-two running back duo in C-USA next season.
Gates who played as a true freshman in 2001 and spend time on the injured list, has come into his own this spring in new Head Coach Bob Petrino's two back set. Gates appears bigger, stronger and faster than in the past and has been consistently good all spring. Friday night Gates carried 8 times for 24 yards and 1 touchdown.
Shelton, a transfer from Florida State, has proved he's as good as advertised with his play this spring. Shelton is a big, powerful back with speed to get outside and the agility to make cuts through the line of scrimmage. Shelton was sensational Friday night, rushing for 121 yards on 15 carries. He also scored a touchdown during the spring game on a two yard run in the first quarter and ripped off a 43 yard gain around the right side from the offenses own 2 yard line in the second half..
Following the spring game, ITV caught up with both Shelton and Gates.
ITV: Talk a little about tonight.
Gates: Tonight was a reward for the whole spring. It was a reward for everybody not only for myself. We had a great spring as a team with the new coaches coming in and it felt real good. Those guys are great. I enjoyed myself. Tonight was just an opportunity to come out and show what we did all spring.
ITV: Talk about the competition at running back.
Gates: Oh man, Eric, T.J., Reggie, all those guys are great running backs and they all push me. With Eric being from Florida State, with his presence it made me bump my game up a little bit better. I know I had to step up to the bat..so I did that and I appreciate him pushing me like that.
ITV: It's been noticable you've run harder and better this spring. What will you work to improve this summer?
Gates: I'll be working on everything. There's always room for improvement...always. Actually with the new coaches coming in I got my confidence back and I'm running harder and running faster and basically I'm going to keep doing those things.
ITV: Your redshirt was pulled during the middle of your freshman season and then you had some injury problems. Did those two events hamper your development?
Gates: That got me down a little bit, the injury and everything but it was cool. I mean I learned from that experience. It was a great experience coming off redshirt. Not many people do that. So I just learned from that and kept going. I didn't get down, for a second I did, but I bounced back and kept going.
ITV: Talk a little about going from the one-back offense to Coach Petrino's two-back set.
Gates: It's awesome. I love this offense. I dreamed of always playing in this offense in college. It's a great opportunity having a full back in front of me. I can see the holes better and I have that confidence that he's going to pick that block up and I can just go on and move through.
ITV: Talk a little about this offenses fondness to throw the ball to the backs out of the backfield.
Gates: Actually this spring I've caught the ball more than I have since I've been here. He likes to use his running backs in the backfield and that's good because it helps me become a better open field player and I can translate that to when I'm running the ball too.
ITV: Talk a little about what having the back come out and catch the ball does to a defense.
Gates: That keeps them balanced. If they don't read us that means they're covering somebody else with two men. Now they got to be honest and stick to us and they will do that this year. They going to have to or we're going to be a big threat coming out of the backfield with the pass.
ITV: How many points are we going to beat Kentucky by?
Gates: Oh, we going to blow them out. We ready, we've been ready for them.
Media: Talk about the competition at running back this spring.
Shelton: It's going to be a battle all summer and it's been a battle all spring but I'm just going to do my best to keep running hard and keep that position. It's been a long time coming so it's going to be a tough battle. Lionel's a great competitor and I'm a great competitor. That's how we're going to do it is just keep competing but we're both still teammates.
Media: How did it feel getting out there after being out so long?
Shelton: It felt pretty good because it's been a long time coming. I had to sit out last year and I had to play a lot of special teams at Florida State, so just coming out in the scrimmage today and getting the opportunity to play felt good.
Media: Do you feel this offense can score on just about anybody?
Shelton: Oh yeah because the offensive is a whole lot better than last year and they've got a year experience under their belt. And the receiver, quarterbacks and coaches. The coaches especially know what they're doing and they're going to get everybody right. We're just going to try to score a whole lot of points this year.
Media: How confident was Stefan in the huddle tonight?
Shelton: Stefan was very confident. I was proud of him and was glad he was the Red team quarterback and Rascati did a good job too. But you know quarterbacks going to be a battle to because they're both good and I was proud of both of them.