Aug. 7, 2014
BEAUMONT, Texas -
In an offense that passed for nearly 300 yards per game last season, it would be understandable for the average fan to overlook Lamar's ground attack - to assume its sole responsibility was to keep opposing defensive coordinators from cheating too much against the pass. But in the midst of a record-setting offense, Lamar's ground game did more than keep opposing defenses honest. It made them pay for mistakes, and at times it even made them pay when they guessed correctly.
Lamar's stable of running backs were responsible for setting several of the program's nearly 50 records last season, and averaged better than 135 yards per game. The Cardinals were led by the most unlikely of candidates, as freshman Kade Harrington worked his way onto the travel roster, and eventually into the starting lineup.
"The thing most people don't understand is Kade wasn't supposed to play last year," said head coach Ray Woodard. "The original design was to use a redshirt and allow him to gain some experience, while some of the more veteran guys handled the role. He came into camp and forced our hand. He was so good we couldn't afford to keep him out of the lineup."
If Harrington's spot on the depth chart was a surprise, then his record-setting season and all the individual honors that followed were nowhere on the radar. By year's end Harrington had destroyed a 62-year old school record for rushing yards by a freshman, on his way to Southland Freshman of the Year, and Freshman All-America honors.
"Due to the season that Kade had a year ago, he isn't going to sneak up on anyone," said Woodard. "He will really have to work and earn his yards, especially early on, but Kade enjoys hard work. No one is going to outwork that young man. I believe our offense is talented enough now to where you can't just key on one guy because we have other weapons. If he stays healthy we expect another big year from Kade."
While Harrington enters camp as the centerpiece, he isn't expected to be a one-man show. Harrington will be joined by classmates Emmitt Raleigh
, and Michael Handy
who is making the switch from receiver. In addition, the Cardinals added Memphis transfer Carl Harris
to the fold during the offseason.
"Our depth at running back is really impressive this season," added Harrington. "As a team, I feel we are ahead of where we were at this time last season, and we have a lot of guys who bring different strengths to the field at running back."
A very talented back in his own right, Raleigh might have been over shadowed by Harrington's breakout season in 2013. But flying under the radar is something that Woodard doesn't seem to mind.
"I think there are some people who forgot about Emmitt last year because of the season Kade had," said Woodard. "But Emmitt played very well as a freshman too. You tend to overlook the fact that he is only a sophomore, but I am very happy with Emmitt and the progress he is making. Right now, he is learning the playbook and really just flying under the radar.
"For a young guy, he has been able to go out every day do his job and not really feel the pressure. He is getting better every day, working hard on the field, in the weight room and the classroom. I'm very happy with his progress," added Woodard.
Raleigh averaged nearly four yards per carry for the Cardinals last season, including one rushing touchdown. Despite his limited touches, he enters 2014 as the team's second-most experienced back and will be counted on to shoulder an even bigger load in this year.
One of Lamar brightest stars of the 2014 signing class was Memphis transfer Carl Harris. A 5-10, 205-pound product from Dallas' Wilson High School, Harris will have two years of eligibility remaining with the Cardinals. Harris is similar to Harrington in that he provides Lamar with another talented option as a receiver out of the backfield.
"Carl really does all the things we want out of a running back," said Woodard. "He is a really good running back but also does a really good job of catching the ball too."
"Carl has really come in here and worked hard to earn a spot in the rotation," said Harrington. "Being a new guy, it's common to come in and try and get noticed and he has come to camp with an attitude of `I'm going to do what it takes to help us win.'"
Another freshman who saw plenty of playing time last season, Handy spent his rookie year at receiver as well as returning kicks. In a move to try and get him more touches, and due to Lamar's depth at receiver, Handy was moved to running back for the 2014 campaign.
"Moving Handy over really adds to that strength," said Harrington. "Being a former receiver we all know that he can catch the ball, but he also is really good at pass blocking as well."
Each season is different, and it would be unfair of fans to assume that 2014 will produce as many records as last year. But, the potential is there for 2014 to be a season that fans of the Red and White won't soon forget.
"I honestly believe the sky is the limit for this team," said Harrington. "We control our fate, and our wins will be controlled by how hard we work on the field."