College football fans, the ones who know the Power 5 conferences inside out, are familiar with the big-name running backs: Georgia’s Nick Chubb. Alabama’s Derrick Henry. They know about the season-ending injuries to Tarean Folston of Notre Dame and James Connor of Pittsburgh.
Old Dominion fans will tell you that they too have a darn good one in a Conference USA loaded with running backs. Four of the five who rushed for more than 1,299 yards last season return this season, but Ray Lawry might pass them all. Last year’s Conference USA freshman of the year, Lawry served notice on Saturday by rushing for 223 yards and four touchdowns in ODU’s 38-34 victory at Eastern Michigan.
“It was an amazing performance,” ODU head coach Bobby Wilder said. “That’s Ray Lawry. He’ll run for 5 yards, 7 yards, then 2 yards, then break one for 70. That’s what he does.”
Lawry, who rushed for 947 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, leads FBS in rushing yards and is tied for the lead in touchdowns. He was 1 yard short of the ODU single-game rushing record set in 2009 by Thomas DeMarco.
While it is only one game into the season Lawry’s numbers in 13 college games shows that big things are in store for the little back from Woolwich, N.J..
While the Southeast and Texas seem to get most of the attention for grooming college football recruits, New Jersey has developed top talent as well. In particular, some high profile running backs have coming out of the Garden State. Heisman Trophy winner Ron Dayne hails from Berlin, former Atlanta Falcons running back Jamal Anderson grew up in Newark while New Orleans Saints running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward is from Passaic.
“I want to be a part of that,” Lawry said. “New Jersey produces a lot of great running backs. I knew about Ron Dayne but not Jamal Anderson.”
The year Lawry was born, Anderson rushed for 1,846 yards and 16 touchdowns. Like Anderson, Lawry is not tall; he is just 5-10. His height and weight, 200 pounds, was the reason why only one scholarship offer came from a Power 5. Lawry’s choices were Maryland, Akron, Temple Western Michigan and ODU.
The Kingsway Regional High product was a part-time starter last season, averaging 11 carries a game. Lawry rushed for 947 yards on 134 carries, scoring 16 touchdowns. Seven yards a touch is good no matter what year you are. As a freshman, it is remarkable.
When Lawry arrived on campus, it was evident though that he didn’t do much blocking in high school. It held him back from being a full-time starter and getting more touches. One reason he’ll be on the field a lot more this year is because the coaching staff can now rely on him to block.
“It has gotten a lot easier and that is because of practicing,” Lawry said. “My preferred block is a cut block because it is a lot easier to bring down defenders.”
At Eastern Michigan Saturday, Lawry rattled off runs of 54, 45, 5 and 2 yards for touchdowns on his way to the 223 yards. He was named Conference USA Player of the Week and is a candidate for ASN Player of the Week (the winner will be announced during Saturday’s games).
During his weekly press conference, Wilder led off by saying that the best part of the Eastern Michigan game offensively was that there were zero turnovers and no penalties. Spoken like a true coach. Lawry had to be the second-best.
“His vision, the way he saw the holes, the way he set up the blocks by the offensive line was great,” Wilder said.
“I have a great offensive line, so they make it for me,” Lawry said. “I put in a lot of hard work too.”
If Lawry continues to work, he just might join Chubb and Henry on the list of the nation’s premier running backs.