Panthers’ running back corps primed to be offensive catalyst

Senior Running back Alex Gardner (1) takes a handoff against the UTSA Roadrunners on Nov. 4, 2017 at Riccardo Silva Stadium. (Nicholas Poblete/ PantherNow)

By Brett Shweky/Sports Director


With an offense that lost their starting quarterback, running back, wide receiver, left guard, and tight end, the Panthers will be looking to rely on the depth of their rushing game to compensate for the departures.

“Losing Alex Gardner, who was the leading rusher, it gives us something to chase to be the next leading rusher. For us four running backs, we just want to be better than we were last year and compete with each other and make the team the best it can be,” said redshirt senior running back Napoleon Maxwell, following FIU’s Spring Game.

Last season, Alex Gardner led the team in rushing with 784 yards and six touchdowns on 171 attempts. He graduates as the program’s all-time career rusher with 2,272 yards and also third on all-time career rushing touchdown list with 16.

Regardless of Gardner receiving most of the carries, junior Shawndarrius Phillips and Maxwell managed to stand out and show they could contribute at high-level. Phillips ended the 2017 campaign with 473 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 98 attempts, while Maxwell finished with 430 yards and five touchdowns on just 70 carries.

As a team, FIU rushed for 2,444 total yards, while also averaging 163.2 rushing yards-per-game and 4.3 yards per carry. The Panthers complimented this by scoring 23 rushing touchdowns.

Panthers’ Head Coach Butch Davis walks down the field at the first day of Spring Training on March 5, 2018. (Nicholas Poblete/PantherNow)

“Running back probably is still the strength of this football team,” said Panthers’ head coach Butch Davis. “We have four guys, that literally the talent is excellent. They got vision, they got size, they have speed, their faster than they were a year ago. Anthony Jones coming back off his injury from last year, to go along with D’Vonte Price, Shawndarrius Phillips and Napoleon Maxwell. That’s just a great group.”

Losing starting quarterback Alex McGough is one the more critical losses for the team, as he contributed to much of the success on the offense. With his absence, the running backs will be looked upon to pick up the workload to help ease the transition of a new starting signal-caller.

During the Spring Game, the running back core displayed such abilities as the group finished with 136 rushing yards total. Maxwell led the team with 54 rushing yards on just six attempts, while freshman Jordan Atkins finished second with 29 yards on six carries. Jones and Phillips both rushed for over 20 yards to contribute to the group’s efforts.

FIU running back Jordan Atkins (37) gets tackled by linebacker Danzel King (right) after rushing the ball during the 2018 FIU football spring game at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, Florida, on Friday, April 6, 2018. (Samuel Navarro/PantherNow)

Adding onto the already talented group is incoming freshman DeMarcus Townsend, who will add more depth to the roster. The Palmetto Ridge High alumnus is a 5-foot-11, 192 lb speedster who may have an opportunity to display his skill set as the season progresses. He was listed as the 49th-ranked running back in the nation for the 2018 recruiting class, according to

“Everyone sometimes gets so egotistically worried about how many carries am I going to get, how many yards am I going to get. Well, at another University that I coached at, we had Clinton Portis, we had Najeh Davenport, we had Frank Gore, and we had Willis McGahee,” said Davis on the misconceptions about a crowded running back room. “I mean we had a lot of guys on the roster on exactly the same team. One of the blessings that came out of that at the time, some of them rushed for over a thousand yards, and they had great college careers. The secret behind all that is almost every one of them had more than ten years in the NFL.”

The Panthers’ opening game to the 2018 season is against the Indiana Hoosiers on Sept. 1 at Riccardo Silva Stadium. Kickoff is set to begin at 7 p.m.