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Breitenstein has Terriers eyeing title
In 2009, Wofford running back Eric Breitenstein played in just two games before injuring his knee. The Terriers went 3-8, their worst season in 22 years.
Last season, a healthy Breitenstein played in all 13 games, set a school record for rushing and led Wofford to a 10-3 record, a share of the Southern Conference title and to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs.
There were a lot of reasons for the turnaround, but Wofford football coach Mike Ayers is not alone in seeing a correlation with the return of Breitenstein.
“Night and day without him,” said Ayers as he prepares for his 24th season at Wofford. “He’s just a tremendous running back.
You put him on a watch, and he’s not the fastest or biggest. But when you look at everything you want in a running back in our offense, the guy is No. 1 – great vision, understands the plays so well.
“If something’s not there, he understands where the cut is. And when he’s not running the ball, he’s probably our best blocker.”
Breitenstein, a 5-11, 225-pound junior, mans the fullback position in Ayers’ triple-option wingbone, and last season rushed for 1,639 yards and 22 touchdowns to earn All-America and all-SoCon honors.
“I’m definitely a product of the system,” says Breitenstein, who is on the preseason watch list for the Walter Payton award, given to the top player in FCS. “If teams don’t take away the fullback, we just keep handing it to the fullback.”
Breitenstein, senior quarterback Mitch Allen and senior receiver Brenton Bersin provide the Terriers with enough experienced parts to keep the system humming. But Wofford will have to replace four starters on the offensive line, including Detroit Lions signee Pat Illig. Right guard Nate Page (6-2, 295) will be the only senior starter up front.
“We definitely have less experience up front than last year,” Breitenstein said. “But those guys did a lot of great things (in spring practice).”
Breitenstein, the SoCon’s preseason offensive player of the year, is not the only Terrier so honored. His counterpart on defense is senior end Ameet Pall, a 6-0, 245-pounder who led the SoCon with 12 1/2 sacks and 22 1/2 tackles for loss last season. He is one of eight starters back on a unit that allowed just 18.9 points per game last season, second in the SoCon.
After the 3-8 stumble in 2009, Wofford seems to be back on track.
“After that season, a lot of people thought Wofford’s run was over, that Wofford’s ability to play upper-echelon football was over,” Ayers said.
Not, it would seem, with the return of Breitenstein.
By Jeff Hartsell, Post and Courier