From a storybook start, Blake Veasley runs into the record books


Give me the ball, Blake Veasley said.

Central Arkansas’ coaches listened, and haven’t stopped giving it to him.

SATURDAY ON ASN: Xxx Xxx (click logo for local listings)
SATURDAY ON ASN: Stephen F. Austin at Central Arkansas, 3:30 p.m. ET (click logo for local listings)

The senior running back had been a career backup until two weeks ago, when Bears starter Dominique Thomas was forced to sit out a game at Lamar after a concussion.

As warmups wrapped up that night — a rainy one in Beaumont, Texas — Veasley approached offensive coordinator Nathan Brown and said he wanted the ball, wanted the game on his shoulders.

Granted, that is something every skill-position player always says. But this felt different to Brown.

“You just saw it in his eyes,” he said.

So Brown kept calling Veasley’s number, which led to some enormous ones — 49 carries for 292 yards, both school records, as well as four touchdowns in a 35-17 victory.

Even with Thomas back last week Veasley had a sizable workload, carrying 27 times for 191 yards in a 21-16 victory over Southeastern Louisiana.

It’s really storybook stuff. And Veasley, who ran for just 178 yards in the Bears’ first six games, wants very much to write a few more chapters, beginning with Saturday’s game between UCA (5-3) and Stephen F. Austin (3-5) at 3:30 p.m. ET on ASN.

“It’s so amazing,” he said. “I just feel like it’s been a long time coming. … Now that this time is finally here, I’m trying to enjoy it. But at the same time I’m also focusing on keeping it going.”

“It couldn’t be happening to a better kid,” said Brown, who called Veasley “a model citizen and a model football player for this program.”

Veasley always takes care of business, on and off the field, according to Brown. Always makes good choices, always works hard and never takes shortcuts.

“You give me a Blake Veasley every day of the week,” Brown said, “and you’re going to win a lot of football games.”

Veasley, who in all has rushed for 661 yards this season (5.3 per carry), very much buys into the coaching mantra about the need for everyone on the roster to prepare as if he were starting, since each of them is always one play away from being pressed into action.

“I’ve seen guys go down – guys that are big-time players, guys that mean a lot to the team – and I’ve seen guys that were counted on to step up to their roles and weren’t ready,” he said. “And I knew definitely if my number was ever called to be that main guy or to really have to be there for my team, I wanted to be ready.”

He grew up in Cherry Valley, Ark. (pop. 651), some two hours east of UCA’s campus in Conway, then walked on at Memphis in 2011, only to discover that one of his high school courses hadn’t passed muster with the NCAA Clearinghouse. That rendered him ineligible that fall, and when the Tigers made a subsequent coaching change, he elected to move on.

In time he found his way to UCA. He did not play in 2012, but showed enough the following spring that he was rewarded with a scholarship.

“That,” he said, “was one of the happiest days of my life.”

He rushed for 253 yards as a backup that fall, 334 last season, while staying prepared for whatever else might come his way.

“He’s always carried a little bit of a little-man mentality, and he takes that to practice,” Brown said. “Whenever you take that to practice, you’re naturally going to make yourself get better.”

That mentality, Veasley said, dates all the way back to his junior high days.

“Coming up,” he said, “I was always told that I couldn’t play running back, or I should play linebacker. There was always someone better than me. I always had to work harder to get everything. There were always obstacles.”

Not anymore. Now he is getting the ball as much as he wants. Now, suddenly, he has broken into the clear.

Above: Blake Veasley has 484 yards rushing in his last two games. (Courtesy of Central Arkansas Athletics)

Gordie Jones

Gordie Jones is a freelance writer based in Lititz, Pa.