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Breitenstein a perfect fit at Wofford
Wofford coaches are taking no chances. Emergency whistles blow almost immediately when running back Eric Breitenstein touches the football in practice.
They don’t want anything to happen to the program.
Breitenstein, a junior fullback from Valle Crucis, N.C., is the Southern Conference preseason player of the year. In 2010, he set the single-season rushing record at Wofford with 1,639 yards. All-time great quarterback Shawn Graves previously held the top three marks, the highest being 1,483 in the Division II days of 1989. Only Breitenstein and Graves have reached 1,300. The Terriers have been playing football for more than 100 years but only a dozen players have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season.
“I had a good year,” Breitenstein said. “I had a good time.”
He led the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision last year with 22 touchdowns, was fourth in yardage and averaged more than six yards per carry. Breitenstein (5-foot-11, 225 pounds) is on the watch list for the Walter Payton Award given to the best offensive player in the country.
“He’s just a tremendous running back,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “He’s not the fastest guy. He’s not the biggest guy. But when you put everything together, he is No. 1. He has great vision and knows the plays so well that if something is not there, he understands where he needs to go, where the cut is. He’s great as far as having patience in the hole. He does a tremendous job with that. And when he’s not running the football, he’s probably our best blocker.”
Behind an offensive line that helped Wofford lead the FCS and rank third among all Division I schools in rushing yards per game (297.8), Breitenstein helped lead the Terriers to a 10-3 record, a share of the Southern Conference championship with Appalachian State at 7-1 in league play and a deep run in the national playoffs.
“We had a really good year,” Breitenstein said. “The offensive line did a great job, and I got a lot of opportunities. Some years it’s the fullback and some years it’s mix and match. It was one of those years when a lot of the openings were for me. I’m definitely a product of the system. If you’re not going to take away the fullback, we’re going to keep hitting the fullback.”
In Wofford’s option-based offense, the fullback is the key to everything. The system is perfect for Breitenstein and he is perfect for the system.
“He fits,” Ayers said. “The plays that we run, the way that we run them, fit his style of running.”
It’s no coincidence that without Breitenstein in 2009, the Terriers suffered their only losing season (3-8) in eight years and their worst Southern Conference record (2-6) since the same record in their debut season of 1997.
“Night and day would be the best phrase,” Ayers said.
Late in the season as a true freshman in 2008, Breitenstein had 157 yards in a breakout game at Appalachian State, less than 10 miles from his hometown. He began the next season with 121 yards against South Florida and had 66 yards in the first quarter against Charleston Southern before going down with a knee injury.
Day turned to night.
That’s why the coaches blow their whistles as quickly as they can and cringe whenever Breitenstein goes slamming up the middle.
He touched the ball three times in the final preseason scrimmage and gained 25 yards before the whistles stopped him. On another play, quarterback Mitch Allen faked giving the ball to Breitenstein and threw a 75-yard touchdown.
“It’s awesome having No. 7 behind me,” Allen said. “Eric is the guy we can lean on and hand it to him 25-plus times a game. He’s a workhorse. And he just makes everything so much easier.”
Success hasn’t gone to his head, either.
“There aren’t too many guys who could have the year he did last year with all the publicity that goes with it and still be as humble as anybody,” Ayers said. “He’s a great leader. He’s a guy who doesn’t say a whole lot, but what he does is go out and prove every day that he’s willing to work for his teammates. He’s an inspiration to a lot of guys on the team.”
By TODD SHANESY, Go Upstate