FIU hoping for Miami Central-like depth at the running back position

Kejon Owens said he was early in his career at Miami Central High when he shared carries with fellow running backs James Cook, Lexington Joseph and Amari Daniels.
“We all put up numbers,” Owens said. “It was a great backfield.”
Indeed, Cook won a national title at Georgia and is now in the NFL as a key member of the Buffalo Bills; Joseph led FIU in rushing last season; and Daniels was Texas A&M’s second-leading rusher last year.
Owens, who won a state title at Central in 2019 while serving as Daniels’ backup, has more modest numbers -- just eight carries in three years at FIU.
But, overall, FIU coach Mike MacIntyre would love for his 2023 running-back room to be as good as that Central bunch.
However, Joseph suffered a knee injury during an April 8 spring practice.
Fortunately for the Panthers, MacIntyre replaced Joseph with South Dakota transfer Shomari Lawrence, a former Pompano Beach Blanche Ely star who is running with the first team this fall.
“Whenever anyone we have an interest in goes into the (transfer) portal, we always check if he’s from Florida,” MacIntyre said. “When we found out that Shomari is from here, we really started to look hard at him, and he was happy to be able to come home.”
MacIntyre said Tennessee native Antonio Patterson, who sat out last season as a true freshman, has added 20 pounds on his 6-foot frame. He is now at 195 pounds and is running with the second team.
Owens is third on the running back depth chart, and Navarro College transfer T.J. Snowden is fourth.
In FIU’s relatively brief history – which dates back to the 2004 season – the Panthers have only had two running backs rush for at least 1,000 yards. Rashod Smith accomplished the feat in FIU’s debut season, and Kedrick Rhodes broke the program record with 1,159 yards in 2011.
It remains to be seen if any FIU running back can break that record or at least reach 1,000 yards.
But what we do know is that Lawrence is FIU’s only healthy running back with legit college experience as he ran for 597 yards and a 5.6 average last year at South Dakota.
This will be the fourth year in college for Lawrence, a 6-0, 204-pounder who seems to fit what FIU wants in a running back.
“For us, it’s important to run the ball, although it’s a bit more by committee than in the NFL,” MacIntyre said.
Florida International University running back Shomari Lawrence (0) runs the ball during practice at FIU Football Stadium in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.
Florida International University running back Shomari Lawrence (0) runs the ball during practice at FIU Football Stadium in Miami, Florida, on Wednesday, July 26, 2023. D.A. Varela dvarela@miamiherald.com
“The starting running back these days has to catch the ball better than they used to when teams had third-down specialists.
“Now a running back has to do it all, and they aren’t as big as they used to be because they have to have the skill to catch the ball and to play in space. There are more outside runs and screens.
“(In recruiting running backs), we look for a real good athlete who is close to or slightly above 200 pounds. We want a back who can take a (shot), but he’s not 230 or 235 (pounds). There are a couple of guys like that in the NFL, but those guys are real rare.”
FIU offensive coordinator David Yost is known as a quarterback guru, but he still said that his running backs are a “huge” focus for the Panthers.
“We’re getting a lot of guys (running-back repetitions) this fall because we know how demanding the position is,” Yost said.
Yost also said he likes the varied skills of FIU’s running backs.
“Shomari is a vertical, one-cut back with a burst,” Yost said. “Patterson’s hands are unbelievable. TJ is a guy who can make a lateral cut and make you miss.
“I’ve always liked running backs who can make you miss. You try to block them all, but that doesn’t always happen.”

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