Michigan Football: 10 Former Running Backs Who Could Easily Play Today
Much of the talk around the practice field this spring was about competition at running back.
The opportunity was there for one of the candidates to distinguish himself from the others.
The only real concern is that Coach Brady Hoke is looking for more of a power back this time around. Someone who can run hard between the tackles.
Last season Vincent Smith was the workhorse, using his speed and elusiveness to excel in the spread option attack. Smith gained 601 Yards on 136 carries.
But Smith is on the small side for what Hoke has in mind. So Stephen Hopkins, Michael Cox, Fitzgerald Toussaint and Michael Shaw have become the front runners.
Smith might become a third-down pass catcher coming out of the backfield.
The sad truth is it doesn’t look like there are any potential All-Americans on the squad. That is, of course, if you’re not counting Denard Robinson who gained 1702 yards in 256 attempts from the quarterback slot.
But Coach Hoke promises to limit Robinson’s carries this fall, along with his punishment.
Hoke has also added a fullback to the attack this year, but John McColgan has never carried the ball and Hopkins will probably spend more time at running back.
The best hope might be in the freshman class. Thomas Rawls and Justice Hayes are both highly touted recruits.
Ironically, Michigan has a history of great running backs. Anthony Thomas, Butch Woolfolk , Tyrone Wheatley and of course Tim Biakabutuka to name just a few.
Any of these, in their prime, could probably step in and win a starting job.
Let’s take a quick look at a few of the past stars. The statistics speak for themselves.
Anthony Thomas (1997-2000)
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Anthony Thomas was one of Michigan's most versatile running backs.
Blessed with both size and speed, Thomas was named MVP in both the 1999 and 2001 Citrus Bowl.
The 6'2", 221-pounder played sparingly during Michigan's 1997 championship season, before cranking it up during his final three campaigns.
Thomas gained 4,062 yards during that time, while posting nine 100-yard games during his senior season.
His best effort was a 228-yard day against Illinois in 2000. He finished his career with 4,472 yards and a school record 55 touchdowns.
Thomas was the NFL's rookie of the year in 2001.
Tim Biakabutuka (1993-1995)
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Born in Zaire and raised in Canada, Tim Biakabutuka went on to set Michigan's 1995 single season rushing record.
Still standing today, Tim put the explanation point on the 1,818-yard campaign with a 313-yard performance (2nd all time) Nov. 25 against Ohio State.
Biakabutuka gained 2,810 yards in his three-year career, before playing six injury-riddled years with the NFL Carolina Panthers.
Tyrone Wheatley (1991-1994)
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Currently the running backs coach at Syracuse, Tyrone Wheatley was one of Michigan's best all-around athletes.
During his senior year, Wheatley impressively won the Big Ten 110-meter hurdles championship.
On the football field, Wheatley earned the 1993 Rose Bowl MVP with a 235-yard, 15-carry performance against Washington.
Wheatley holds the Michigan single-season yards-per-carry record with 7.3. His 4,178 career yards places him fourth on the all-time Michigan list.
Wheatley played 10 years in the NFL, four with the New York Giants and six with Oakland
Jamie Morris (1984-1987)
Bo Schembechler recruited Jamie Morris to be a kickoff returner.
At 5'7" he was thought to be too short to last as a running back.
But by the third game of his freshman season, Morris had proved everyone wrong He would be the starting tailback the balance of his career.
Morris finished his career with 4,393 yards, third on the all-time Michigan list.
His 1987 total of 1,703 yards is also third. Morris saved his best day for last. In the 1988 Hall of Fame Bowl, he scored on runs of 25, 14, and 77 yards on the way to a 236-yard performance.
Morris was selected in the third round of the NFL draft, and spent two seasons with Washington and one with New England.
Chris Perry (2000-2003)
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Chris Perry also enjoyed playing in Tampa.
He scored four touchdowns in the final game of his career, as Michigan beat Florida, 38-30 in the 2003 Outback Bowl.
The Bowl victory capped off a fine senior season for Perry who ended the campaign with 1,674 yards. He also won the Big Ten MVP along with the Doak Walker award, given to the nation's top running back.
Perry completed his stay at Michigan with 3,696 yards, sixth on the all-time Michigan list. He was drafted in the first round by the NFL Cincinnati Bengals but had a injury-prone six-year career.
Rob Lytle (1973-1976)
Rob Lytle (Photo: Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan)
Rob Lytle passed away in his hometown of Fremont, Ohio from a heart attack November 20, 2010. Lytle was a fan favorite who had the right combination of size and speed.
His fine senior season capped off a Michigan career where he accumulated 3,317 yards, seventh all-time for a Wolverine.
Lytle, who ran for 1,469 (7th) yards, did it with a 6.65 per-carry average (4th).
The 6'1', 200-pounder played seven seasons for the Denver Broncos. rushing for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 61 passes for 562 yards and two scores.
Michael Hart (2004-2007)
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Michael Hart will be best known for his post-game "little-brother" comment after the 28-24 win over Michigan State in 2007.
The Spartans have since won three straight in the series
Michigan State pretends the comment helped fuel their fire, but one thing's for sure, Hart ran all over the Spartans.
In four games against the Green and White, Hart ran for 225, 222, 125 and 112 yards (all Michigan wins).
Hart, who currently holds Michigan career records for most rushing attempts (1,105) and most yards (5,040), is currently on the Indianapolis Colts' roster.
Ron Johnson (1966-1968)
Ron Johnson (40) (Photo: Media Relations: University of Michigan
It rarely comes up for debate, but how long will Ron Johnson hold Michigan's single game rushing record?
His 347-yard performance came on a wet, nasty day during a victory over Wisconsin in 1968. (Of course, Joe Dimaggio's 56-game major league hitting streak was set in 1941).
The running back finished the 1968 season with 1,391 yards and his three-year career with 2,440.
Johnson, who graduated from Michigan's Ross School of Business, had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons with the New York Football Giants.
Billy Taylor (1969-1971)
Billy Taylor (42) (Photo: Bentley Historical Library, University of MIchigan)
Billy Taylor was just one of many heroes in the 24-12 upset over Ohio State in 1969. Taylor picked up 84 tough yards as the Wolverines spoiled the Buckeyes season.
Just the week before, "B.T." put on quite a show against Iowa. He ran for 225 yards and two touchdowns as Michigan took care of the Hawkeyes, 51-6.
Taylor finished with 14 100-yard games in his career, and finished with 3072 rushing yards, eighth on Michigan's all time list.
Professionally, Taylor played a partial season with the CFL Calgary Stampeders.
Butch Woolfolk (1978-1981)
Like Tyrone Wheatley, Butch Woolfolk was also a track star for Michigan, He still holds the Michigan record for the outdoor 200-meters at 20.59.
Woolfolk was just another in the long list of Michigan tailbacks with both speed and power. He accumulated 16 100-yard games in his career, and rushed 29 TDs. His 3,850 yards is fifth all-time for Michigan.
In an unusual occurrence, Woolfolk was named MVP in two Bowl Games the same calendar year. First, Woolfolk gained 187 yards in Michigan's 23-6 win over Washington in the Rose Bowl (Jan. 1, 1981).
Then, Woolfolk gained 193 yards in Michigan's 33-14 win over UCLA at the Bluebonnet Bowl (Dec. 31, 1981).
Woolfolk played seven years in the NFL, rushing for 1923 yards, and catching 187 passes.