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November 15, 2013

Stanback: Humble and hungry

Every season has a new player or two that steps up unexpectedly. In 2010 it was quarterback Jeff Godfrey, then a true freshman, who led UCF to its first bowl win in four tries. In 2012 it was wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Two thirds of the way through the already historic 2013 season, backup running back William Stanback has emerged as the surprising spark plug on offense.

Though Storm Johnson has the starting running back position on lockdown, Stanback has made the most of his opportunities, beating out two other true freshmen and a redshirt sophomore for the prime backup role, and has yet to disappoint.

If all you did was browse Stanback's stat line, you could easily overlook him as just the typical, backup running back, producing 316 yards and five touchdowns on 55 carries. That's not the most remarkable aspect of his season. It is the timing of the moments when the Uniondale, N.Y. native made his impact.

Against the Houston Cougars last weekend, fighting for first place in the American Athletic Conference, Stanback finished off two long, classic UCF bruising drives with one short, toss sweep touchdown to the pylon, and a trap play up the middle for what would prove to be the game sealing 38 yard score, high stepping past the last defender in a vintage pose.

His unassuming eagerness (Stanback asked head coach George O'Leary the week after showing out against Louisville if he was going to get any playing time against UConn when his parents would be in the stands) and an almost playground-like sensibility is the unique driver to his big play ability. This isn't a style that works for every player, especially in the world of football with its emphasis on aggression and ruthlessness.

This isn't something that can be timed or sized up with a tape measure. That's how a talent such as Stanback can slip through the cracks in recruiting, being overlooked by the new coaching regime at Syracuse after Doug Marrone accepted the head coaching job with the NFL's Buffalo Bills.

The 5-foot-11, 224-pound runner has made his share of mistakes and miscues. Dropping an easy touchdown reception at Memphis and committing a motion false start in Louisville. True to form, he made up for both mistakes later in those contests.

Ask Memphis' Marquis Warford, the kick returner on the receiving end of one of the most vicious collisions I have seen on a football field. The resulting fumble allowed Drico Johnson to scoop and score what would prove to be the winning touchdown (a collision that inspired a temporarily popular Twitter hashtag #StanbackOrGetRunOver). It's no wonder O'Leary has intimated that Stanback could play on either side of the ball.

Against the eighth-ranked Cardinals, the freshman tied the game up late in the third quarter, taking a sweep out of the shot gun past the goal line after breaking a 30 yarder on the previous play to set up it up.

Is Stanback going to be the Trent Richardson to Storm Johnson's Mark Ingram, a surefire starter stuck behind another all world player? Time will tell. For the time being, his change of pace from Johnson's slash and sprint method to a hit the hole and cut technique keeps the defense on it's heels.

Stanback is a fun, change of pace workhorse. Fun for Knight fans, that is, not for opposing defenses.



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