C.J. Fuller has bided his time in Clemson’s backfield for two years, serving in a reserve role behind featured running back Wayne Gallman. Now, with Gallman’s departure, he is poised to earn a larger opportunity this season.
Fuller has been solid if unspectacular thus far during his career, though his contributions were less quiet as a redshirt sophomore in 2016. The reliable all-around back played in all 15 games, averaged 4.5 yards per rush on 47 carries and averaged 8.9 yards on seven catches which included two touchdown receptions. He was also consistently the best of Clemson’s backups in pass protection.
Clemson’s race to replace Gallman at running back was every bit as tight in the spring as the quarterback battle. But if the season began today, Fuller would be the No. 1 guy. Head coach Dabo Swinney says he is deserving of that chance.
“If we played today, Fuller would run out there first based on where we are,” Swinney said. “He’s earned that. He’s had some big moments.”
A couple of those moments came in two of the season’s biggest games. Fuller caught an 18-yard touchdown pass against rival South Carolina, part of a 64-yard total effort, before recording a 30-yard touchdown catch against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff.
Fuller also helped Clemson stave off defeat against N.C. State after Gallman left with an injury in the first quarter. He posted 16 carries for 56 yards, and picked up a critical yard on a fourth-and-1 play in overtime to set up the game-winning touchdown.
Perhaps more than anything, Fuller’s confidence has improved over the past two years. It showed on the biggest stages and helped him emerge as Clemson’s primary backup last season. Fuller gives credit to Gallman for his growth in that area.
“I just listened to him, and I took in everything he gave me,” Fuller said. “That built my confidence.”
Running backs coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott reiterated throughout the spring how close the running back competition was and how tight the pecking order is heading into summer workouts.
The situation at the position lacks clarity and likely will until at least the end of fall camp, which begins on Thursday. Fuller, redshirt junior Adam Choice and sophomore Tavien Feaster are all expected to see their fair share of action during the regular season, and the Tigers might not have a true bell-cow back in 2017.
But Fuller’s role has increased in each of his first two campaigns. It would be surprising if that trend doesn’t continue this season. Fuller is doing all he can to make it happen.
“This is a very good competition. All three of us are working to be that guy,” Fuller said. “So, you can’t slack off. You’ve got to come out, finish your runs and block. You’ve got to do everything the coaches ask so hopefully you can be that guy.”
ADAM CHOICE: 5-9, 210, REDSHIRT JUNIOR: Choice’s career was thrown off track as a freshman in October 2014, when he suffered a torn ACL that caused him to miss the second half of the season and redshirt the 2015 season. He returned from the injury in 2016, but didn’t seem to be the same explosive runner he was before it. As a result, he was listed as the third-team running back behind Wayne Gallman and C.J. Fuller at the end of the season. Fuller started to look like his old self in the spring, however. Tony Elliott said the redshirt junior ran with the same confidence that helped make him one of Clemson’s top backs as a freshman.
“We have to remember, he was the guy that could have potentially gotten the nod back in his freshman year before he got hurt,” Elliott said. “What you are seeing is he is coming with that level of confidence that he came in with.”
TAVIEN FEASTER: 5-11, 210, SOPHOMORE: A highly touted running back out of nearby Spartanburg High, Feasterentered his freshman season with a lot of hype. Because he was coming off ofshoulder surgery, and because he naturally had a lot to learn as a new player atthe collegiate level, Feaster was handled with kid gloves by the coaching staff.
He received only 37 carries throughout the season, though he averaged 6.0 yards per tote and flashed glimpses of his dynamic talent.
With Wayne Gallman gone and a year under his belt, the reins on Feaster should be less tight in 2017. He ran as well as any of Clemson’s running backs in the spring and showed that he has taken a step forward in his development since last season. Still, he needs to improve as a pass blocker and be more consistent overall in order to gain more trust from the coaches.
“Even though he is still making progress, things started moving fast,” Elliott said. “You still saw a couple of flashes, but I would like to see him be more consistent.”
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