An effective rushing attack is the solid foundation of a championship team. This may as well be the first commandment of football, brought down to us by gridiron prophets like Vince Lombardi and preached by coaches from pee-wee to professionals. The mentality has not changed since the infancy of the sport, when a forward pass was still an illegal play. USF head coach Willie Taggart knows these teachings to be true and centers his offensive strategy on his team’s best player, Marlon Mack.
The junior running back has been a major part of the Bull’s offense since his freshman year during the 2014 season, rushing for 1,000+ yards in both his freshman and sophomore years, accumulating 2,403 yards in his first two years. He started his third year just 328 yards fewer than the standing program career record of 2,731 yards that was held by former USF running back Andre Hall. On October 1, 2016, Mack surpassed Hall, breaking the decade-old record.
For most programs, breaking a 10-year-old record isn’t very noteworthy; players come and go, leaving their footprint in the program’s record books. Hell, let’s be honest for a moment; a program rushing record of 2,731 yards isn’t something to boast about. In fact, that doesn’t even break the top 20 of in-state rushing records. Every major FBS school in the state has at least one player that sits in the top 20, except for Florida International and USF.
That’s not meant to take anything away from Hall, who was a junior college transfer in his junior year, rushing for 1,357 and 1,374 yards in his junior and senior seasons respectively. Mack has only had one season like either one of Hall’s, running for 1,381 yards last season. Only Hall and Mack have managed to break the 1,000 yard barrier in Bulls’ history, both managing to do it twice in consecutive seasons.
Let’s put this into perspective; Mack achieved the school record in the fifth game of his junior year, leaving seven more games left in the season. Mack currently sits at number 21 on the list of all-time career rushing leaders from universities in the state of Florida; up next is former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow with 2,947 yards. If Mack continues his average of just over 1,200 yards per season, he will finish the season presumably at number seven on that list (depending on where FSU running back Dalvin Cook lands as he currently sits at number nine). Mack would surpass the likes of former and current NFL players Fred Taylor of Florida, Ottis Anderson and Duke Johnson of Miami or Florida Atlantic’s Alfred Morris.
Even if Mack just barely reaches the 1,000 yard mark this season, he would only need to net another 667 yards for the final seven games of the season. To hit that 1,000 yard mark for the third consecutive time, Mack would need to average 95.3 yards per game for the rest of the season. That is an attainable goal for Mack who has averaged 98.4 yards per game in his career up to this point.
If we were to look a year from now what could we expect? If Mack continues on his warpath of consecutive 1,000 yard seasons, he could find himself in the company of some of the football titans that have come out of Florida football programs, like Warrick Dunn and NFL Hall of Famer, Emmitt Smith. That’s not mentioning all of the other notable players from around the nation; players like NFL Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk, or Bobby Rainey, another running back that was under Taggart’s tutelage.
In the 28 games that Mack has played in his USF career, he has run the ball for 100 yards in 15 of them. Let that sink in. More than half of the games Mack has played, he rushed for at least 100 yards. He has two 200 yard games under his belt, one of which during USF’s upset of a ranked Temple team last season.
The list of Mack’s accomplishments and potential achievements could go on, but if you were to ask him about breaking the record, he’d probably shrug it off. In fact, he did before the week four match against Florida State.
“It would be great for me. It’s one thing that I could put on my wall for my kids and the future, but it’s just a record. Somebody is probably going to break it after me, because we’re pretty young at this program. It is what it is.”
While Mack’s nonchalant attitude towards breaking the record is most likely a symptom of the team-first mentality that can be found throughout the Bulls’ locker room, it is an extremely important record for the Bulls’ fan base. USF has had few faces to identify their team with in recent years, but with the resurgence of the program and local high school playmakers staying close to home, Mack leads the group of talented athletes such as Quinton Flowers, Rodney Adams, and Auggie Sanchez that are all breaking school records as well.