The 2015 Camellia Bowlchamps reported to spring practice on Feb. 7 and the Mountaineers have eight more of the 15 practices allowed by the NCAA to get prepared for the fall.
Much of the success during App State’s bowl win season relied heavily on the intriguing run game led by then-junior running back Marcus Cox, who rushed for 1,423 yards (third in the Sun Belt) and nine touchdowns in 12 games.
Cox, who currently has 4,088 career rushing yards heading into his senior year, is on pace to break the Mountaineers’ all time rushing yard record of 4,804 yards held by Kevin Richardson.
Led by first-year running back coach Stu Holt, the Mountaineers finished second in rushing yards in the Sun Belt Conference and saw Cox’s freshman single game rushing record broken by Jalin Moore with 244 rushing yards during an away game against Idaho on Nov. 14.
Moore finished the season strong and has fans hoping he could be the next feature back for a Mountaineer team known for its running the last couple of years.
“Jalin has a bright future,” Cox said. “Last year when I was out, he stepped in and did great. We have two different running styles that work together and both of us can change the pace.”
The rushing game not only includes Cox and Moore, but also saw action from sophomore Terrence Upshaw and freshman Josh Boyd who made the most of their carries for the Mountaineers.
“The luxury we have is that we have some very talented guys,” Holt said. “We are getting everyone comfortable with the offense.”
Athlon Sports, a sports magazine, ranked Cox the nation’s No. 25 running back heading into the 2016-17 season.
“Its motivation to be considered one of the best backs in the nation,” Cox said. “However, I do not want to settle for 25, I want to work hard to finish better than where people are ranking me.”
Vocal leadership was a huge key to success for an App State team that finished 11-2 overall. Heading into his senior year and being seen as one of the team’s most accomplished and decorated players, Holt sees the need for Cox to step up and take on the leadership role.
“We have had the conversation with Marcus about becoming a leader on the team,” Holt said. “He has always been a leader on the field, and now we are hoping he can become a little more vocal to help encourage these guys and get them motivated to contribute.”
Moore has seen Cox excel as a leader, helping him adjust to the college level as a true freshman last season.
“He has always been a strong leader teaching me steps and going over plays,” Moore said. “He has been a big part in my success.”
Cox knows that there is a void to be filled by the senior defensive leaders who graduated.
“We lost our vocal leaders in Blair and Middelton, who graduated, so as a senior we are going to need me and some other guys to step up and continue where we ended last year,” Cox said.
Like any sport, every season is different, and even after flashes of Moore’s potential and Cox’s accomplished resume, the competition is wide open during spring practice.
“The key to spring football is competition and that every year is a new year,” Holt said. “We certainly will look at what the guys did in the past but they are working hard here now.”
Experience, though, should definitely play a factor in who is receiving carries next season, and Moore has seemingly jumped over the freshman hurdle and is moving on to the next.
“I feel I am smarter and faster because I don’t have to think as much as last season,” Moore said. “When I had reps last year, I had to figure out the mindset being a freshman, but I feel now with the experience, I will just be on the field without thinking as much.”
Spring practice is just the first step to being prepared for the fall season and Cox is already stepping into his new leadership role.
“I feel we’ve come out with high intensity and worked on the little things,” Cox said. “For me personally, I am trying to work on my own development of getting faster, changing direction and helping the younger guys.”
One of the most important positions in football is the running game, and Mountaineer fans should feel confident heading into next season with a potential NFL player in Cox and a confident sophomore who has shown flashes of greatness in Moore.
Story by: Jason Huber, Senior Sports Reporter