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Published: Saturday, 8/23/2008

Collins leads University of Toledo runners

BY MAUREEN FULTON
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Junior running back DaJuane Collins rushed for 636 yards and seven TDs last season. Junior running back DaJuane Collins rushed for 636 yards and seven TDs last season.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

DaJuane Collins is looks forward to seeing what happens in the University of Toledo football team's first few games, before opponents can collect much film on fellow running backs Adonis Thomas and Morgan Williams.

Collins, a junior, is expected to be the starter for the Rockets. But judging by their training camp performances, freshmen Thomas and Williams will see a healthy share of playing time.

"I think it's good because no one knows who they are so they're not really going to be game-planning for them," Collins said. "It will be their time to come out and shine."

The face of the UT running game for the last two years was easy to define. Jalen Parmele was named to the Mid-American Conference first team both seasons and finished in the top five in school history in career rushing yards. His 1,511 yards in 2007 were fourth on UT's list of single-season all-time bests.

With Parmele gone to the NFL, a lot of carries are up for grabs.

"A lot of people think that because Jalen left, a big part of our offense is gone," Thomas said. "We've just got to pick up the slack."

Collins' numbers last year make it seem he'll take naturally to the featured back position this season. He led the team with a 6.4 yards-per-carry average in 2007, rushing for 636 yards and seven touchdowns.

Williams' and Thomas' most recent stats are from their high school days, but are still impressive. Williams had more than 2,400 yards and 34 touchdowns at Canton McKinley in 2006 and Thomas rushed for nearly 2,000 yards at his high school in

Newark, N.J. Both came in as highly acclaimed recruits last season and sat out a year.

"Our goal this year is to go out and prove we have the same talent and we can pick up right where we left off last year," Collins said.

Collins is the biggest of the trio at 211 pounds, the power back. Thomas is a scat back with 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash. Williams has "vision," Thomas says, and deceptive power and speed despite being slighter than the others.

"We can just mix it on a lot of teams up at any different time," Thomas said.

Thomas is mixing it up on his own as well. This week he has been practicing at slot receiver while redshirt freshman Tim Cortazzo has been out with an injury. Thomas has been learning the ropes there and mentally preparing himself to be used at either position.

"It's fun, it's just a lot of learning to go through," Thomas said. "I think of myself just as an athlete, not necessarily at running back or receiver."

In high school Thomas played every skill position on offense at one point or another. Thomas said his first day at receiver didn't go so well, but extra work with offensive coordinator/receivers coach Chris Hedden and quarterback Aaron Opelt has helped him improve quickly. Hedden said Thomas will be used at running back and slot to start the season.

"He's doing great, obviously it's a transition for him," Hedden said. "He's learning how to do different things, it's a different skill. Overall he's working hard and picking up the offense. I think he can do some things out there and we can get the ball in his hands in space."

Contact Maureen Fulton at:

mfulton@theblade.com

or 419-724-6160.



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