Tyler Ervin, San Jose State (5-10, 192): The versatile Ervin etched his name throughout the school record book. He ranks No. 1 in school history in all-purpose yardage (6,146), kickoff return yardage (2,374), kickoffs returned (101), kickoff returns for touchdowns (three), combined punt and kickoffs returned for touchdowns (five), most touchdowns of 80-plus yards (six) and most touchdowns of 70 yards or more (eight). Ervin ranks second on the school’s list for career rushing yardage (2,803), including a school-record 1,601 yards (5.4 average) this season. Ervin also set the San Jose State record for most all-purpose yards in a season with 2,637 yards. He ranked second nationally with 202.9 total yards per game. He rushed for 300 yards and three touchdowns vs. Fresno State and 263 yards vs. Nex Mexico, making him the only player in the nation with two games of 250 rushing yards. He added a career-high 45 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns. For his career, he rushed for 2,803 yards (5.3 average) and 19 touchdowns and caught 87 passes for 783 yards (9.0 average) and four touchdowns. Wherever he lands, he’ll find a nice place to live, as he was on pace to receive his real estate license in February. He also served as the team barber. “Some guys play a lot of video games,” Ervin said. “I see what I can do to get better at cutting hair.”
Josh Ferguson, Illinois (5-10, 196): Ferguson was a model of consistency during his final three seasons. As a sophomore, he rushed for 779 yards and caught 50 passes. As a junior, he rushed for 735 yards and caught 50 passes. Despite missing three games as a senior, he rushed for 708 yards and caught 37 passes. He finished his career with 2,586 rushing yards (5.1 average) and 18 touchdowns and caught 168 passes for 1,507 yards and eight more scores. His value was evident during his absence this season.
Derrick Henry, Alabama (6-2, 242): Underclassman. Henry won the Heisman Trophy in rampaging fashion. Henry set SEC records for rushing yards (2,219), rushing touchdowns (28) and carries (395). He won the school’s second Heisman while winning the Maxwell Award (top amateur athlete), the Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Doak Walker Award (top running back). Not only did he lead the nation in rushing and rushing touchdowns but it wasn’t close, with 200 more yards and four more touchdowns than his nearest competitors. Setting records is nothing new. At Yulee (Fla.) High School, he broke Ken Hall's 51-year-old national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards after rushing for 4,261 yards as a senior in 2012. At Alabama, his 3,591 rushing yards broke Shaun Alexander’s career record. He was always the big kid in Yulee. Henry was born when his mother and father were 15 and 16, leading his grandmother to take over his care three months later. “I was used to raising kids, so it didn’t bother me at all,” said Gladys Henry, 78, who had 14 children. “I wanted him to live a normal life.” She succeeded. Not only is he an athletic star, but he was chosen to deliver the closing prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast in early February. Along with striking a Heisman pose with President Obama, his message included being great leaders and helping and inspiring others.
Jordan Howard, Indiana (6-1, 225): Underclassman. Howard starred at Alabama-Birmingham. He made the Conference USA all-Freshman team with 881 yards (6.1 average) and was first-team all-conference as a sophomore with a school-record 1,587 yards (5.2 average) and 13 touchdowns. UAB shuttered its program after the 2014 season and Howard chose Indiana out of about two-dozen suitors. He made an immediate splash. Howard was first-team all-Big Ten in 2015 with 1,213 rushing yards (6.2) average and nine touchdowns. He had two standout games. Against Iowa, which had allowed 85.8 rushing yards per game and just one rushing touchdown to date, Howard ran for 174 yards with touchdowns of 37 and 29 yards. He then rushed for 238 yards against Michigan — the most ever for a Hoosiers back against the Wolverines. He’s a big back now and he was a big back when he was a kid. “Even in little league, some of the parents would refer to him as ‘The Bulldozer,’” his mom said. He grew up in a hurry. He lost his grandmother, grandfather and father in a six-month span.
Devon Johnson, Marshall (6-1, 253): As a freshman and sophomore, Johnson was a backup tight end, catching 15 passes during that span. As a junior, he was moved to running back. How did that work out? Pretty well. Johnson rushed for 1,767 yards and 17 touchdowns, with the yardage figure ranking second in school history and the touchdown tally being the most since Ahmad Bradshaw scored 19 times in 2006. Johnson rushed had a school-record 10 games of 100-plus yards en route to winning first-team all-Conference USA honors. His senior season, however, was limited to seven games. with Johnson rushing for 604 yards (6.3 average) and five touchdowns. Back problems dogged him during the season, and he hoped to make his statement at the East-West Shrine Game. "It's very important," Johnson said. "Am I at full strength yet? No. But it is important to show the scouts that I do have durability and can take some hits. Most importantly, I need to show them that I'm healthy and that I'm back to my old self, making plays and being the athlete that I have been." He had a strong week of practice but an injury kept him out of the game. Johnson’s nickname is “Rockhead” because of his punishing style. He grew up in McDowell County, W.Va., which used to be one of the most affluent areas of the nation during the coal boom. Now, not so much. “No matter where you are you can still dream big.” After his freshman year of high school, the family moved to a bigger town so Johnson would get more attention from recruiters. “He about killed two kids in practice,” his high school coach said. “He was just so big and physical and you don’t see high school kids with his size and speed. Like we say around here, ‘God put an extra sprinkle on Devon.’” Unfortunately, Johnson’s dad died before he could see his dreams realized.
Daniel Lasco, California (6-0, 205): Lasco had a breakout season in 2014, when he rushed for 1,115 yards and tallied 1,471 rushing and receiving yards — the highest totals in those categories by a Cal player since 2011 and 2008, respectively. As a senior, however, Lasco, was slowed by an injured hip muscle early in the season and a sprained ankle late. The team captain rushed for merely 331 yards (5.1 average) in nine games (three starts). “When healthy,” Bears head coach Sonny Dykes said, “he’s one of the best running backs in the country.”
Tre Madden, Southern California (6-0, 225): Madden rushed for 1,155 yards (5.2 average) and eight touchdowns in an injury-filled career. He spent his freshman season at linebacker, starting once and recording 15 tackles for the season. He was moved to running back as a sophomore but suffered a torn ACL and missed the season. In 2013, he rushed for 703 yards (5.1 average) and three touchdowns, though most of that production came before a midseason hamstring injury. Turf toe sidelined him for the 2014 season. He was back in action this season, rushing for 452 yards (5.3 average) and five touchdowns in nine games. He was bothered by a sore knee throughout the second half of the season and had surgery before the bowl game. Football runs in the family. Madden’s father, Curtis, played running back at Kansas State and his maternal grandfather is Lawrence McCutcheon, who played running back for the Rams. An uncle, Daylon McCutcheon, played cornerback for the Browns and is a coach with the Jets.
Keith Marshall, Georgia (5-11, 212): Marshall burst onto the scene as a freshman with 759 rushing yards and eight touchdowns while working with Todd Gurley in the Bulldogs’ “Gurshall” backfield. Against Tennessee, he had touchdown runs of 72 and 75 yards. However, he sustained a torn ACL in the fifth game of his sophomore season and played only three games as a junior. In 2015, Marshall ran for 350 yards (5.1 average) and three touchdowns. He was eligible to apply for a fifth year of eligibility but elected to head to the NFL, instead, with a degree in finance accompanied by a 3.2 GPA. "I’m not one of those guys who has a lot of regrets or who dwells on what happened in the past. My main focus is preparing myself for the future. Everything happens for a reason. I think Georgia did a great job preparing me for the real world on and off the field. I’ll take what I learned here and move on." He’s allegedly run a 4.28 in the 40. Marshall’s brother, Marcus, just completed a productive freshman season as a running back at Georgia Tech. Still, the battling brothers had a nice Thanksgiving. "I feel like my brother is one of the best in the country," Marcus said. "If he hadn't been injured, he'd already be in the league."
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Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.