Most people would have said last year that NC State's best position, talent-wise, might have been at defensive end with Mario Williams and Manny Lawson wreaking havoc off the edge. However, the Wolfpack's five, that's right, five tailbacks on the 2005 roster could challenge any group across the country based on credentials.
As the season progressed, true freshmen Andre Brown and Toney Baker emerged from the group as the go-to tailbacks, with each an integral part of the Wolfpack's ground game.
Following the season, Bobby Washington transferred to Eastern Kentucky, Darrell Blackman moved to wide receiver, and Reggie Davis is listed as the starter at fullback, although he remains No. 4 at tailback on the updated depth chart. Those moves open the door for Brown and Baker to receive the necessary reps to improve this spring. They are joined on the depth chart by Jamelle Eugene, a redshirt freshman from Naples, Florida who impressed early last fall.
Brown really came on over the last six games of the season, starting the final five after a record-setting 248-yard two-touchdown performance against Southern Mississippi. Brown's 248 yards rushing broke the NC State freshman single-game rushing record of 227 yards, previously set by former Wolfpack great Ted Brown against Clemson in 1975. It was the second-highest rushing total in school history, just three yards shy of tying the record set by Brown in 1977 against Penn State.
The 6'0, 232-pound sophomore was North Carolina's 2003 Associated Press Player of the Year, rushing for 3,479 yards (a state single-season record) in leading Rose High School to the 4A state championship. He inked with NC State that following February, but failed to qualify academically.
Brown, who had hoped to be battling T.A. McLendon for the Wolfpack's starting tailback position in 2004, instead was in Chatham, Virginia. There he attended Hargrave Military Academy, and made the most of the situation.
"I feel that if you go in there and apply yourself it can work out great. It worked for me. It can work for anybody."
After matriculating, he finished his freshman season as NC State's leading rusher with 667 yards and six touchdowns on 129 carries, sporting an impressive 5.2 yards per carry average. Perhaps his most impressive statistic was zero, as he didn't fumble all year long and proved to be the Wolfpack's most reliable ball carrier.
He also achieved high marks in the classroom, as he made the Academic All-ACC team after posting a 3.10 GPA for the fall semester and a 3.02 overall GPA.
"When I finally got to NC State, my number-one goal was to make academic All-ACC," he said. "This means more to me than anything I did on the football field this year."
Despite posting gaudy numbers last season, you can expect Brown to be pushed this spring by fellow sophomore Toney Baker. Arguably the top recruit to ever sign with NC State, Baker enrolled in 2005 as a consensus top-five back nationally and the top player in the state of North Carolina.
His running style complements Brown very well. Baker is a hard-nosed, tough running back who pounds on defenses and is always moving forward. Brown is explosive off the edge and can take it to the house from anywhere on the field.
"They kind of complement one another," Amato said of the duo. "Toney just hammers and breaks tackles. Andre's just kind of boom, boom, boom and accelerates and breaks tackles."
Baker knows what he does best, and that might be his biggest asset. His nose for the endzone and ability to light up the scoreboard has always been a strength. Not only did he set the North Carolina state career rushing mark with 10,231 yards, but Baker also finished with 161 career touchdowns.
"I feel like I do have a nose for the endzone when I get the ball down there in the redzone," Baker said. "That's how I've always been, through little league and up until this point. I'm just happy to have that."
Like Brown, Baker had a very productive freshman season. The 5'10, 228-pounder finished with 546 yards and five touchdowns on 124 carries (4.4 YPC), and he added 13 catches for 106 yards and another score through the air.
The 'Killer B's' should be even better next season. Last year they shared reps with Blackman, Davis, and Washington in practices and games, but this spring it will be just those two working at the position each day and building chemistry with a solid offensive line.
However, don't forget about that other freshman running back who redshirted last season: Jamelle Eugene.
Eugene first burst on the scene early last fall when the media was hounding coach Amato about his group of running backs. After one practice, Amato was asked who stood out.
"All three of those freshmen running backs," he said. "I'll tell you what, remember the name Jamelle Eugene. He's pretty good."
Eugene, a 5-foot-10, 202-pound runner from Naples, Florida, was actually recruited to play cornerback at NC State, but impressed so much after arriving in Raleigh that he remained at tailback, the position he played at Naples (FL) High School.
After tearing an ACL during his sophomore campaign, Eugene rushed for over 2,000 yards as a junior and 1,213 yards and 16 touchdowns his senior season when he averaged an astounding 11 yards a carry.
He inked with the Wolfpack over offers from South Florida, Central Florida, North Carolina, and Louisville among others, and this spring he will get a chance to really show what he can do.
Pound-for-pound he is one of the strongest players on the team and is said to have great hands out of the backfield.
With only two other players ahead of him on the depth chart, Eugene is just a sprained ankle away from being a backup or the starting tailback in 2006. He has no pressure on him or expectations, and he is certainly one to watch as he has reportedly already impressed in the early stages of spring practice.
Pack Pride Edge: Entering the spring you've got to believe Brown is the starter given his performance late last season. However, Baker really started to come on later in the year, and he was the go-to guy down the stretch in the bowl game. Either way you slice it, both players are ultra-talented and will receive plenty of playing time next year. Eugene should be an excellent change-of-pace or third-down back given his skill set. It's certainly a strong trio and with added experience it should be the strength of the 2006 Wolfpack.