Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Spartans do battle for vacant tailback position

April 12, 2002
Senior tailback Dawan Moss practices running through tackles April 1 at the Duffy Daugherty Football Building. Moss is first on the depth chart to replace the departed T.J. Duckett. —

Heading into the final scrimmage of spring practice, the race for the starting tailback position is heating up.

In the wake of T.J. Duckett’s departure to the NFL, former fullback Dawan Moss seemed the only solution this spring. The soft-spoken senior dropped 22 pounds and appears ready to assume the duties of MSU’s bruiser.

But the 5-foot-10, 236-pounder isn’t a lock to be the starting tailback next fall.

Senior Shawn Foster, who was academically ineligible last season, is available this year. But the surprise challenger has been junior college transfer Mike McConnell.

McConnell originally signed to play for the Spartans in 1999, but spent a year in junior college because of academic ineligibility. The 6-0, 210-pound junior spent last season learning the ropes and has been raising eyebrows this spring.

“He’s doing really well,” junior center Brian Ottney said. “He has some things he needs to improve on just like everyone else, but he’s doing really well and he’s definitely shown a lot of promise.

“He’s definitely impressed me and I think he’s going to be a tough running back.”

The combination of Moss and McConnell gives the MSU football team both a bruising back and a speedster.

“I’m more of a shifty back, but when it comes to it I can be a power back,” said McConnell, who runs a 4.37 40-yard dash. “But I’m more of a speed back than a power back.”

In his freshman season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in Miami, Okla., McConnell rushed for 239 yards and four touchdowns in the final six games. He missed the first five with a sprained ankle. As a sophomore for the Spartans he played in nine games, but was limited to special team duties.

As a senior at Adairsville High in Georgia, McConnell was recruited by Clemson, Georgia, Nebraska and Oklahoma State.

McConnell said he chose to stick with the Spartans because they showed the most commitment.

“They really stuck with me through junior college,” he said. “All the other schools kind of backed off and they stayed with me so I knew that I was going to come here out of junior college.

“I didn’t have any second thoughts because Michigan State stuck with me from day one.”

Both have impressed the coaches this spring, but only McConnell saw action in last Saturday’s controlled scrimmage. He rushed for 52 yards on 10 carries, including a 3-yard touchdown run. Moss was held out because of a coach’s decision.

But it’s Moss’ work ethic that is keeping him at the top of the depth chart.

“Moss is hungry. He’s running hungry,” defensive secondary coach Troy Douglas said. “It has made all of us better because you really have to hit him hard because if you don’t he’s going to run over you.

“T.J., he’d kind of hit the hole and let them grab on to him, he didn’t run to run over you in practice. T.J. didn’t always pump it up in there, he was kind of an established guy.”

Moss said the move from fullback to tailback won’t change his running style. He said he always has run hard.

“It’s just my nature, that’s how I run,” he said. “I don’t know any other way. That’s how I’ve always run.”

Saturday, the two tailbacks will get their final chance to impress the coaches in the spring’s final controlled scrimmage.

But while Moss and McConnell continue to battle for the position this spring, the race will get even tighter in the fall when St. Louis freshman running back David Richard gets thrown into the mix.

Junior quarterback Jeff Smoker said it will be important for the Spartans to prove they can run the ball so teams won’t be able to just key in on junior wide receiver Charles Rogers.

“I definitely think we’re going to have to establish a running game this year,” Smoker said. “Teams are going to look at us and say they don’t have T.J. and all they can do is go to Chuck.

“One thing we’ll have to do early in the season is let teams know we have a running game. I know Dawan is ready for the challenge.”

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