Where were you when you heard the news that Larry Rountree III committed to play football at Missouri? Chances are, you don’t remember. It didn’t make many waves back in December of 2017. Why would it? Rountree was a 3-star running back out of North Carolina who had previously been considering offers from James Madison, Appalachian State, North Carolina A&T and Boston College.
That’s not exactly a who’s who of college football powerhouse programs.
His arrival on campus started turning heads, though. There were whispers throughout the program early on that Rountree would be one of the freshmen expected to contribute right away. Contribute he did. Rountree played in all 13 games as a freshman, splitting time with Ish Witter. Rountree took over as the primary back in his sophomore year with Damarea Crockett and Tyler Badie serving as the change-of-pace backs.
Rountree and Badie would continue serving as the primary backs over the next two seasons, in 2019 and 2020. Rountree was so consistently productive throughout his career that he finished with more rushing yards than any other running back in program history.
His running style is not easy to replicate. His passion and leadership is impossible to replace. Rountree went through thick and thin in this Tigers program. He’s going to be missed, but it’s up to Eli Drinkwitz and the Missouri coaching staff to find a way to replace his production.
The Favorites: Tyler Badie and Elijah Young
One of my main takeaways from spring ball was this:
“Elijah Young and Tyler Badie are clearly the top two backs right now. Everyone else will battle for third fiddle behind those two.”
I’m not about to second guess myself now. Badie has all the talent in the world, and I tend to believe he can be a “workhorse” running back in college football. But does the staff? It’s hard to know.
Drinkwitz trusted Nyheim Hines to be a lead back in his time at NC State, and that’s probably the best comparison for Badie.
Hines was listed at 5-foot-8, 178 pounds as a high school recruit. He finished his college career at 5-foot-9, 197 pounds. Rivals listed Badie as a 5-foot-9, 168-pound recruit. The Tigers now have Badie’s official measurements at 5-foot-9, 200 pounds.
If the Tigers don’t want to go all-in on Badie as a workhorse back, they might split Rountree’s carries between both Badie and Young. Young is similar in style and speed to Badie at 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds. He had only carried the ball 10 times as a freshman, but he showed excellent potential in his limited action against Vanderbilt.
But... Maybe I’m just biased. Young happened to be one of my favorite recruits to watch in the 2020 class.
The Other Options: Taj Butts, BJ Harris
Yes! Another opportunity for me to talk about Taj Butts. My goodness, is this kid fun to watch. He finished his high school career at DeSmet with 36 touchdowns in 27 games. His high school football coach compared his physical running style to former Alabama running back Josh Jacobs. He’s already listed at 190 pounds as a high school senior before working with a college strength & conditioning staff.
If the Tigers are looking for a direct replacement of Rountree’s style and size, Butts is probably the guy. That’s a lot to put on a player in his freshman year at Mizzou, though.
What it means for Mizzou:
Rountree led the SEC with nearly 21 carries per game last year. His 14 rushing touchdowns were third in the league. That’s a true bell cow back Mizzou is looking to replace.
The overwhelming likelihood is Missouri will look to multiple backs to replace Rountree’s carries.
Missouri’s running backs finished last year with an average of 28 running back carries per game. If I had to make a projection on how those will break down this year, I would go with 10-12 carries for Badie, 10-12 carries for Young and 5-10 carries combined between Butts and Harris.