Malcolm Crockett left Pittsburgh and transferred to Southern in search of more playing time.
Since arriving in January, he has found the competition at running back to be pretty strong with the Jaguars as well, but things are starting to work out for Crockett and the offense as a whole.
Crockett, who had just 12 carries in his lone season at Pittsburgh last year, saw significant playing time in just one of Southern’s first five games. But he has had a bigger impact in the past two, most notably scoring the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 51 seconds left in a 35-34 victory at Alabama A&M two weeks ago.
“It’s the new opportunity that I was looking for,” Crockett said before practice Tuesday. “When I came in here, there was a lot of competition, but when you have a lot of competition that allows everybody to get better.”
Crockett knew right away he would have to compete with Lenard Tillery, Southern’s leading rusher a year ago, and Jamarcus Jarvis, a transfer from North Texas. Then Tyre Bracken, a transfer from Southern Mississippi, joined the competition when he became academically certified after the start of preseason camp.
“We just feed off of each other,” Bracken said. “When someone’s going good, we’re going to give him the confidence and cheer him on. It’s not like we’re going to get mad or something because somebody else is doing good and we’re not doing it.
“We just keep cheering each other on and working with each other. We try to compete and make each other better.”
Crockett supplanted Tillery as the starter during preseason camp, but he was withheld from the season opener at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette because of concerns about his academic certification. In his absence, Bracken, Tillery and Jarvis all got opportunities.
After being reinstated the following week, Crockett showed his preseason form in the home opener against Central Methodist. He ran 21 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. He seemed poised to become the top ball carrier in the crowded backfield until he suffered an ankle injury after just two carries a week later against Northwestern State.
That forced Crockett to miss the first two Southwestern Athletic Conference games at Prairie View and at Alcorn State. Jarvis also was sidelined by an ankle injury and Bracken was sidelined by a shoulder injury.
Suddenly Tillery was again the featured back with John West and Herb Edwards in reserve while the trio of transfers mended.
“I tried to get back as fast as I could because it was hurting me being on the sideline,” Crockett said. “I’m just glad to get back.”
He returned to action two weeks ago in the second half against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, rushing seven times for 29 yards. The ankle was stronger a week later against Alabama A&M and he finished with 44 yards on 10 carries.
When Tillery bruised a hand on the winning drive, Crockett suddenly became the featured back. The Jaguars faced fourth-and-2 at the 5, and he gained 4 yards. One play later, he scored the game winner.
“That last drive kind of let the whole team know what we’re capable of because we hadn’t been playing to our full potential,” Crockett said. “We have a lot of talent on the team and we hadn’t been playing to how we should play. So I think that last drive was a spark to something ahead that’s going to be great.”
Southern is coming off an open date as it prepares to visit Jackson State on Saturday. Jarvis returned to get two carries against A&M and Bracken returned to practice Monday and is expected to play this week.
“It’s excellent because you’ve got another guy that can go the distance,” coach Dawson Odums said of Bracken’s return. “That’s what really makes our offense special is that there are so many guys that when they touch the football they can go the distance.”
The return to health of the three transfers has once again made running back one of the deepest positions on the team. Tillery leads the team with 492 yards and four touchdowns, Brackens has the second-most yards (293) and highest yards-per-carry average (8.9), Crockett is next with 184 yards, and Jarvis has just 58 yards but has scored three touchdowns on 19 carries.
“I’m more of a downhill runner,” Crockett said. “Tyre is more explosive and adds another dimension to our offense. Tillery is a very determined back. He’s not going to let the first man tackle him and Jarvis is a big back so a lot of people aren’t going to like hitting him. Every back has different things so as a rotation we bring a different aspect every time we get on the field.”
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