Player to watch: Shepard Little

File+photo+%7C+The+Daily+Eastern+News+%0A%0AShepard+Little%2C+a+red-shirt+junior+running+back++runs+the+ball+in+a+Fall+2014+game+at+OBrien+Field.+

File photo | The Daily Eastern News Shepard Little, a red-shirt junior running back runs the ball in a Fall 2014 game at O’Brien Field.

Aldo Soto , Sports Editor

Red-shirt junior running back Shepard Little spent his first two seasons watching from the sidelines.

After being red-shirted as a freshman, Little spent the 2012 season as a member of the scout team.

In his first collegiate game, the 5-foot-10 running back had a modest 10 carries, splitting time with Taylor Duncan. Little rushed for 62 yards, but less than two minutes into the fourth quarter he put the game away with a 60-yard punt return touchdown against San Diego State, leading to a 40-19 Eastern win on Aug. 31, 2013.

The success continued for the Schaumburg native and the big plays also followed. In the Panthers’ home opener against in-state rival Illinois State. Little had seven carries, but made them count. Already leading by 27 points in the third quarter, Eastern added to its lead with a 73-yard touchdown run from the elusive running back.

After spending most of last season splitting carries with Duncan, Little took advantage of his opportunity to start after his running mate went down with an injury. Little established himself as a premiere back in the Ohio Valley Conference, leading the league with 110.6 rushing yards per game.

Little’s 1,551 rushing yards in his first year playing in college ranked No. 7 in the FCS and was first in the OVC. He scored 15 rushing touchdowns and added two more receiving touchdowns.

New offensive coordinator Greg Stevens comes in from Southeastern Louisiana, with a balanced playbook that has more running than what Dino Babers implemented the previous two years with the Panthers.

Last year, Stevens watched over his Southeastern Louisiana offense that score 42 rushing touchdowns, which was No. 4 in the FCS. That offense also averaged 233.6 rushing yards per game, which was No. 15 in the FCS.

First-time head coach Kim Dameron said the offense would be more run-oriented, so Little’s work load is expected to rise this season.

The running back has caught the eye of analysts across the country, as Sports Network named him to the third team preseason All-American at running back.

Little also earned a preseason All-OVC at running back and return specialist honor and was named to the College Football Performance Awards preseason watch list for running back.

With a new coaching staff on board and a higher concentration on the run game this season, Little is touted as one of the top running backs in the OVC and could possibly ascend to the top of the FCS.

 

Aldo Soto can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]