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Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Small is the new Big with running backs


Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

Arizona running back Keola Antolin is thickly built and, well, dinky. He looks like a weeble.

And he played like one against California, refusing to fall down after first contact from hulking defenders on his way to 149 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the Wildcats 42-27 victory.

Antolin said after the game he was "5-foot-7 1/2," though he immediately laughed after saying so.

Recall that the last time an unranked team defeated a ranked opponent in a Pac-10 game it was Jacquizz Rodgers gashing USC for 186 yards on the ground.

Rodgers is 5-foot-6, 180 pounds.

Hmm.

Turns out that five of the nation's top-10 rushers tip the scales at under 190 pounds, according to their official weights.

Only two are taller than 5-foot-11. Only two weight more than 210.

Recruiting powers like LSU (221-pound Charles Scott), USC (215-pound Stafon Johnson) and Penn State (212-pound Evan Royster) will continue to haul in prototypical backs with size as well as speed, but it seems a lot of non-traditional powers and mid-level teams are stocking their rosters with undersized guys who have two things in common.

They are short. And they produce.

Besides Antolin and Rodgers, Cal uses a pair of sub-200 pounders in Jahvid Best and Shane Vereen. Antolin displaced Nic Grigsby from the lineup last week, but the 178-pound Grigsby has scored nine touchdowns and averaged 5.9 yards per carry.

Arkansas' Michael Smith is 5-7, 173 pounds and is averaging 132 yards per game. Would Ball State be nationally ranked without MiQuale Lewis, who's listed at 5-7, 175? Southern Miss' Damion Fletcher tips the scales at 175 pounds yet averages over six yards per carry.

Michigan State workhorse Javon Ringer weighs 202 pounds, but that's because he's packed his 5-foot-9 frame with a freakish about of muscle over his four-year career (how does this guy find a pair of pants that fit?).

Perhaps the secret of the dinks is out and there will be a big run on little running backs working their magic off the radar of the national recruiting scene where measurables are so important.

"I don't think there will be any more than normal," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said. "I think it's just a matter of good players. And I really believe they come in all different packages. If you are short or smaller, what are your compensating factors? These guys obviously have compensating factors to not being 6-feet tall."

Fact is, there are some advantages to being small. We snarked about USC's players claiming they couldn't find Rodgers, but Rodgers and Antolin both said they use their lack of size as an advantage.

"I hide behind the linemen all day -- just like [NFL players] Darren Sproles and Maurice Jones-Drew," Antolin said after the Cal game. "It's the exact same. I stay low and hide and explode through the hole."

Score one -- or a few -- for the little guys.