Arian Foster profile

Richard Kovalcheck might have been the best recruit Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders never got.

Kovalcheck, who has started six games this year at quarterback for the University of Arizona, was playing for St. Augustine his senior year when Sanders flew to California to watch him play.

After four quarters, Sanders instead left knowing he wanted the running back for Mission Bay, Kovalcheck's opponent that night.

"We were playing a playoff game that night against them (St. Augustine)," said Arian Foster, the running back who incidentally ended up on Sanders' radar. "I was flattered. I had only had a couple of offers from this area."

And after senior back Gerald Riggs went down with an ankle injury in the Vols' 6-3 loss at Alabama last Saturday, Foster found himself as UT's starter, the same week Kovalchek got benched by Arizona coach Mike Stoops.

"I have confidence in him (Foster)," said Sanders. "Do I know he can be the number one guy yet? No.

"You have to see him do it. But from the way he has played the last two or three weeks, he's shown signs of being that guy."

Foster was impressive against the unbeaten Crimson Tide, rushing 14 times for 56 yards, and he turned a sure loss into positive yardage more than once. But now he'll be asked to take a much heavier load with the loss of Riggs, who was rushing for nearly 90 yards per contest.

"It's a shock to a back's system when they go from being a 20-25 play a game guy to a 50 or 60 play a game guy," said Sanders, whose offense is ranked 105th nationally in rushing offense. "There's no more physical position in football than running back."

Foster, who is a redshirt freshman, wasn't even the backup a month ago. True freshman Montario Hardesty had outplayed him into the number-two spot, but he tore the ACL in his right knee against Ole Miss. After Hardesty went down, Foster scored his first career touchdown against the Rebels.

"I've got an opportunity to step forward and help my team contribute," he said. "This week I'm a little nervous. You're going to be a little excited about getting your first start."

The circumstances, however, aren't so exciting. Senior captain Jason Allen was already down for the season before Riggs' loss, and a once-promising squad is now struggling to hold it together at 3-3. Not to mention the fact that Foster has a bit of a fumbling problem.

"Even though we got it back, I was disappointed to see him fumble (against Georgia)," said Sanders. "That's probably been the biggest question about Arian."

Foster will have a chance to answer those questions Saturday night against a South Carolina defense that ranks 85th nationally in rushing defense. Kickoff is set for 7:45 on espn2.

"Obviously Gerald was a very important part of our offensive attack," said Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer. "He was headed toward a 1,000-yard season probably.

"But we're fortunate to have some guys – Arian Foster particularly – that have played some and played well."

Inside Tennessee Top Stories