A torn ligament on the top of his left foot has caused Miami tailback Gus Edwards to be sidelined for the 2015 football season, but the two healthy tailbacks with college experience — and apparently, the one who last played in high school — believe they are ready for the considerable challenge that awaits them.
“I was heartbroken,” sophomore tailback and top returning rusher Joe Yearby said of his reaction when he realized Edwards, who coach Al Golden said had surgery Saturday afternoon, would miss the season.
“Everybody put in the same work, but him going down took a big toll on me and the running backs.
“That’s our big brother. He’s the oldest in the group so we have to work hard for him. We’re trying to be every-down backs now. We’re working on everything.”
No one but Golden and his coaches know whether Edwards, a junior, would have gotten the first touch in the 6 p.m. home opener Saturday against Bethune-Cookman, but he did have a “great camp and great summer,” the coach said Tuesday.
He finished spring No. 1 on the depth chart.
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Edwards is now listed as carrying 241 pounds on his 6-2 frame, and his absence means the Canes sorely need a big body that can barrel through the defense in goal-line and short-yardage situations.
Yearby, 5-9 and 202 pounds, indicated everyone will have to compensate. The biggest healthy tailback is 6-2, 216-pound sophomore Trayone Gray, who was a quarterback at Miami Carol City before being converted last season, when he rushed only six times for 24 yards and a touchdown.
“I’ve just got to keep working on my pad level, keep being physical and whatever happens, happens,” Gray said, adding that 2015 “was supposed to be a big year” for Edwards, who rushed for 349 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. “He taught us a lot. Seeing him go down, it hurt. We told him we’re going to hold it down for him. This season is dedicated to Gus.”
The depth chart released Sunday has Yearby (509 yards and a touchdown in 2014) “or” true freshman Mark Walton as the first-team tailback, with Gray behind both.
Walton, 5-10 and 195 pounds, was a four-star recruit who chose Miami over Auburn, Florida State, Tennessee and South Carolina. He rushed for 1,472 yards and 22 touchdowns last season at Miami Booker T. Washington High.
“He’s ready, very mature,” Golden said Monday on 560 WQAM radio.
“Comes with a purpose everyday. He’s a learner — excellent in protections, presses the ball really well. He’s excited to get out there this weekend.”
In his first pregame news conference of the season Tuesday, Golden called it “huge” that Edwards, Yearby, Gray and Walton had been alternating first-team carries all fall.
“The distribution at that position was probably the best, to be honest with you, in terms of that,” Golden said, adding that even fullback Walter Tucker “got a lot of reps — inside run and things of that nature — so, really, we don’t feel like we’re going to miss a beat there.
“We feel badly for Gus, disappointed for him. He worked really hard. But he’s going to be back. He’s in great spirits, but it’s a great opportunity for the other three guys.”
Golden said he never considered asking first-team safety Dallas Crawford, who previously played tailback and rushed for 581 yards and 12 touchdowns, to switch back.
Crawford was asked Tuesday what he would do if they asked him to play tailback.
“You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “It’s all about wins. If they need me over there then I’ll go.”
Did they talk to him at all?
“Naaah,” Crawford said. “They’ve got it handled over there. I’m starting on defense. I don’t need to be there.”
Edwards has been seen wearing a black boot around campus, and Golden and players said he came to team meetings Tuesday to support his teammates.
Golden praised Edwards for his positive attitude, and for being there for the others.