With as many as 11 running backs competing for carries at the start of training camp, only one of them has been the Bulls’ opening-day starter.
Just four carries and 26 yards into his collegiate career, Moise (pronounced Moses) Plancher tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee and ended his season before it started.
Now fully recovered after almost a full year of rehabilitation, Plancher has to battle through many competitors to reclaim his spot as the top running back on the team.
“I’m real excited to get back out there. It’s been a long, long process and I’m glad to just get a shot,” Plancher said. “(The running back position is) full of talent and every guy has a chance to play, so I just have to prove I can still do it.”
With Plancher sidelined, junior walk-on Benjamin Williams took over starting duties and finished second on the team with 436 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. Both of his totals were second only to quarterback Matt Grothe.
After impressive displays in running the ball, blocking and receiving out of the backfield, coach Jim Leavitt has said the other 10 backs competing for playing time will have to catch up to Williams.
Williams, named MVP during the Bulls’ victory over East Carolina in the Papajohns.com Bowl, believes Plancher is going to be one of the main backs to see playing time during the season.
“I think he’s a lot stronger than last year. He looks real good in practice,” Williams said. “Eleven guys is a pretty good depth chart. There’s a lot of competition, but Mo is fast and I think he’ll be there.”
Although Plancher missed his opportunity to be the running back to beat last season, the former Barron Collier High School standout feels the long process back has made him appreciate playing even more.
During his senior year of high school, the 5-foot-9, 190-pound back rushed for a Collier county record 362 yards in one game and concluded his prep career with 1,661 yards and 16 touchdowns.
After using his redshirt season in 2005 working out with the practice squad, Plancher spent his freshman year on the sidelines cheering for his team after playing just one series. Along with the frustration of not playing, gaining confidence in his knee again proved a challenge.
“It was tough. One day it might go really well. You might feel 100 percent one day and then the next day you’re down to 75,” Plancher said. “That was all part of the struggle. Every day was different.”
This season, the surplus of players competing for carries led running backs coach Carl Franks to joke about the entire team lining up for carries.
“With 11 guys, I don’t think Jim (Leavitt) is going to allow me to stockpile at the position,” Franks said. “Mo definitely got a chance, but there is no way to predict how it’s going to play out. There’s a lot of competition, and it’s going to make him better and make the team better.”
Along with Plancher and Williams, USF has whittled its running backs down to two former Alabama players wtih highly-touted freshman Mike Ford and Jamar Taylor, along with Shawn Cannon, Aston Samuels and Tyson Butler.
Teammates said Plancher stands out with his ability to forget what happened last season and focus on getting back onto the field. Franks indicated the injury has made Plancher a stronger runner.
“I think he is back. He looked great running around. His knee looked fine,” Franks said. “A lot of times when you have knee surgery, as I’ve had five times, sometimes you come back stronger than before the injury.”
As USF’s opener against Elon approaches, Leavitt feels Plancher is on pace to receive the bulk of carries during the 2007
“Mo Plancher looks real good. I was real impressed with him,” Leavitt said. “He ran with great balance, he stumbled one time and caught himself and looked real strong. He’s right in the mix; we have four or five running backs that we’re looking at playing this year and Mo is one of them.”