Two of Union College’s five captains happen to be running backs who are soft-spoken leaders in the huddle.
But senior fullback Dylan Schuck and senior tailback Darnel Thomas still plan to make plenty of noise with their exploits on the field this year as the Dutchmen try to rebound from an uncharacteristic 3-7 campaign that was plagued by injuries.
Thomas, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound speedster, led Union in rushing with 601 yards on 124 carries. He also scored a team-best five touchdowns and added 207 receiving yards.
Schuck, a versatile 6-0, 205-pounder, sat out the entire 2013 campaign with an ACL injury, and he can’t wait to return to his 2012 form, when he was one of the Dutchmen’s primary goal-line threats.
“I consider myself more of a quiet leader,” said Schuck. “I never like to pop off that much on my teammates, but it’s my job to help the guys on offense do the right things and know the plays.”
Schuck said last year’s season-ending injury was hard to accept.
“I hurt myself in a scrimmage right before the season, and I had to get my right ACL operated on,” he said. “The knee is fine right now, but I’ll be wearing a brace on that knee when I play fullback.”
Schuck, a graduate of John F. Kennedy Catholic High School in Putnam Valley, didn’t carry the ball often two years ago, but he made every rush count. He broke loose for 49 yards on two carries and a score against Merchant Marine Academy, and scored twice against Springfield. He also ran for 43 yards on just five carries against St. Lawrence.
But then the injury wiped out a whole year of playing time.
“I consider myself more of a combination back than just a fullback,” he said. “I can block, and I like to run the ball when we’re close to the end zone.”
Thomas, a strong runner both inside and outside, was a second-team Liberty League all-star a year ago, when he averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
In 2012, he ran for 408 yards and scored six times. As a rookie in 2011, Thomas rushed for 330 yards on 63 carries and scored a TD.
“I like to lead by example,” Thomas said with a wide grin. “But believe me, I’m not quiet if I can’t break through a hole. I think we have five good running backs on this team, and they are all from different ends of the spectrum, as far as styles are concerned. I can run whatever play they want me to. I can catch the ball, I can run inside, and I can run outside. I’m up for all of that.”
Thomas was also asked if he was ready to be Union’s primary ball carrier once again.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’ll take the ball whenever coach wants me to.”
Union head coach John Audino, who has a 150-71 record in 22 years with the Garnet, believes all the injuries his team suffered a year ago will help the team in the long run.
“We lost our starting wide receiver [Kyle Reynolds], our starting fullback [Schuck] and several other guys on the offensive line last year,” Audino said. “But even though some of our offensive linemen are beat up so far, we have no major injuries. Our blocking scheme uses a lot of zone concepts, so the guys tend to be closer together. Once we get in sync, we will be fine.”
Audino is thrilled with his backfield, that includes senior quarterback Connor Eck (108-for-193, 1,344 yards, five TD strikes) and plenty of depth at tailback and fullback.
“I think we have five or six runnings backs who can play, and that’s kind of neat,” he said. “A lot of them are big and powerful guys who run north-south and keep their shoulders low to the ground.”
While Audino agreed that Thomas has speed to burn, he also pointed out how important it is to have Schuck’s versatility to rely on.
“Dylan is the kind of guy who can play running back, fullback, tight end or H-back. We can move him all over the field,” Audino said.
6 — at Ithaca, 1; 13 — UTICA, 1; 27 — at St. Lawrence, 1.
4 — SPRINGFIELD, noon; 11 — at WPI, 1; 18 — WESTERN NEW ENGLAND, 4; 25 — ROCHESTER, 1:30.
1 — at Hobart, noon; 8 — U.S. MERCHANT MARINE, 12; 15 — at RPI, noon.
Home teams in CAPS.