On his birthday last Saturday, freshman RB Adrian Alexander (6) carried the ball six times and scored three touchdowns during the Rams’ huge 38-29 victory against Fort Valley State. (Columbus Ledger-Enquirer)
ALBANY -- Four running backs from four different states walked onto Albany State's practice field this preseason with uncertain futures.
They have emerged as a four-headed running machine.
Or in Darryl Carey's words -- the perfect storm.
He calls himself "Thunder" because of his power. Then there is freshman Adrian Alexander who he calls "Lightning" with his speed and quickness. Carey tabbed junior Nathan Hoyte as "Smoke" because of his elusiveness, while junior Luther Edwards was then labeled as "Storm," simply because he can do about everything.
WHO: Albany State (8-2, 6-1 SIAC) at Miles College (6-4, 5-2 SIAC).
WHAT: Inaugural SIAC Championship game, second meeting of season between Albany State and Miles.
WHEN: 3 p.m. Saturday.
RADIO: 98.1 FM.
Carey is the only senior out of the bunch and the only one who had any carries at ASU before this season. He said the foursome has bonded into one unstoppable "machine" for a Rams team that will play in the inaugural SIAC Championship game in Atlanta on Saturday against Miles College.
"We have a nice bond. We love each other. We encourage each other," Carey said after Thursday's practice. "When we come to the sideline, the first thing we say (to each other) is, 'What did you see?' Or we say, 'What did that play look like?' "
The four have combined to give the Rams (8-2) the fourth-best running game in the SIAC, averaging 139.4 yards per game as a group.
Hoyte, a transfer from Shepherd University (W.V.) who is originally from Maryland, is typically the starter and has had a team-high 137 carries for 615 yards and six touchdowns. Edwards, who is more of a fullback with his 5-foot-11, 225-pound frame, has carried it 60 times for 258 yards and three touchdowns. Alexander, a true freshman from Macon, has 31 carries for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Carey, a native of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has 53 carries for 164 yards and four touchdowns.
Despite a friendship that extends off the field, Carey insists the four are still hungry for carries and "on coach's hip" during the game -- pleading for more playing time. But at the same time, they root for each other to succeed each time the ball is handed off.
"I think the splitting carries works out pretty well, because each of us bring something to the table," Hoyte said. "It's a change of pace in the game, and it seems like the defenses struggle with dealing with all four of us."
It's a very effective group of runners, said Mike White, who has used four-back rotations before as head coach of the Rams.
"We have had depth in the backfield before, but I don't know if we have had this speed and elusiveness before," White said. "We have had power guys, but I don't know if we have had guys like Alexander and Hoyte, or those type of guys who can break it."
Entering the season, most of the talk about running backs was directed toward senior Kareem Hess, who carried the ball in seven games last season, backing up Robert Welton and LiRonnie Davis.
Just over a month before the season began, running backs coach Kenyan Conner said this about Hess: "The only running back we have coming back right now is Kareem Hess, so we know he is a good zone runner and a good cut-back slash runner. He is always good between tackles and is tough, and we are looking for guys to match his toughness. We are going to set the tone with Kareem."
But then everything changed when Hess went down with a season-ending injury two weeks before the 2011 opener. On Thursday, Carey said that the starting role wasn't set that early in the season and that Hess was still competing for that job along with the other four backs.
"At Albany State, we believe in competition," Carey said. "There really was always going to be a competition. (The media) named Hess as (the starter). It never was a role change, we were always working hard anyway."
But a healthy Hess would have meant a lot fewer carries for the current backfield.
"I'm not sure how it would have worked out," White said. "We knew Carey would get some touches, and we knew how good Hoyte was, so we knew he would get in there. We had heard about Luther, but didn't know much about what he could do."
Now White and his coaching staff know what all of them are capable of. All four have led the team in rushing in at least one game this season. They saw it when Carey started off the season with a team-high 51 yards and a pair of touchdowns against Savannah State. Hoyte took over the reins and led the Rams in rushing the next five games, until Edwards emerged as the top rusher against Morehouse and Clark Atlanta. Finally, Alexander had his coming-out party last Saturday against Fort Valley State when he galloped for 110 yards and three touchdowns -- on his birthday nonetheless -- and ran away with the Fountain City Classic MVP trophy.
"The reason it's so hard for the defense to contain us is because you have a fresh set of legs every play," Edwards said. "Nate has his own special way of running. D.C. has his own special way of running. And I have my own special way of running. When us three are in there, the game is at a tempo. And then you top it off with the little guy. We pretty much have the game speed set, and then he comes in and changes the whole tone of the game. He hits them when they least expect it."
That "little guy" is 5-9 and 185 pounds and is affectionately called "Ironhead" by his teammates. It's a nickname that was given to him a decade ago and stuck.
"When I was little playing in the rec leagues and stuff like that, coach gave me (the nickname Ironhead) because I used to hit with my head," Alexander said. "I used to play defense, and I would go right in with my head."
On Saturday, Alexander took the Fort Valley State defense head on and emerged with that MVP trophy that he says is now sitting on his desk in his dorm room. Edwards remembers the freshman opening eyes on the first day of practice.
"He came out of nowhere," Edwards said of Alexander. "We were over there doing drills on his first day out here, and he got a hand off and flew through (the line). It was like, 'Man, that boy is fast.' They gave him the ball and he torched the defense on the scout team."
Torching defenses -- just a by-product of Alexander's lightning-quick speed. It was the perfect addition to the perfect storm.
And Carey said whatever the four are doing, they are doing it well.
"It works out," Carey said, as the other three nodded in agreement. "For there to be four of us, it really works out."