Going into the 2015 football season, Derrick Craine feels equally comfortable being the featured running back for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga or being one of three or four players getting carries.
He's going to get a shot at both.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior is the Mocs' leading returning rusher apart from quarterback Jacob Huesman. Craine had 491 yards and four touchdowns while spelling 1,000-yard rusher Keon Williams in 2014, and he also caught 24 passes for 218 yards and two scores. His six total touchdowns ranked fifth on the team.
He'll be one of two primary running backs going into the season, with sophomore Richardre Bagley being the other. UTC coach Russ Huesman said Thursday that true freshman Kyle Nalls will figure into the rotation, as could true freshman Alex Trotter, who is limited while he heals from a minor shoulder injury.
"I'm surrounded by a bunch of great guys," Craine said. "I'm in a leadership role, but the other guys push me to be a leader because a lot of them look up to me. It's my third year in the system, but we feed off each other."
Given the Bob Davis Winter Warrior award at the spring game, Craine is held in high esteem — by his teammates and coaches, as well as coaches on opposing teams.
"He's always been a great worker," Coach Huesman said. "He's as blue-collar as you can get, a throwback guy and a really good player. I think the people in this league respect him: Coaches come up to me and rave about what kind of player he is. He's a tough kid who loves the game — it's important to him.
"Sometimes when people talk throwback, you think of a guy that doesn't have much ability, but he's got ability. He can make you miss and is a great runner with the football.
"He's got ability. No doubt."
First-year running backs coach Shawn Bryson didn't get a consistent look at Craine until preseason camp began. Craine had missed portions of the spring with an injury. Bryson has found out, though, that Craine runs hard on every play in practice, regardless of the situation.
"He's an extremely hard worker," Bryson said. "He's been in the system for a while and he knows what he needs to do. He's a solid player, a solid kid, and he does what he needs to do off the field and I enjoy coaching him.
"He's not a huge back, but he's shifty, smart, catches the ball well and understands the game. He's a good football player."
Craine had his first career 100-yard rushing game against The Citadel, finishing with 135 yards on 17 carries. In the Mocs' NCAA quarterfinal 35-30 loss against New Hampshire, he found a gap and sprinted 33 yards for a touchdown as part of a 53-yard total, while also catching five passes for 63 yards and the game's final score. He's definitely in the mix to get a lion's share of the 227 carries Williams had in 2014.
"I think I'm up for the challenge that Keon had, but if we go through the season and have a bunch of guys in the rotation, that's a positive as well," Craine said, "because not only does that give me a little rest time, it gives other guys rest time and keeps us all fresh. But at the end, if I'm taking the main role, I'll have to settle into it and will give it the best I've got."
The Mocs will hold their first scrimmage today at 4:30 p.m. at Finley Stadium.
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