Wake Forest has two speedsters competing for the bulk of the carries this fall, Josh Harris and Orville Reynolds, and both offer different qualities to go along with their fleet feet.
The 5-foot-11 and 212-pound Harris, a redshirt junior from Duncanville, Texas, hopes to provide physicality for Wake's ground game, while Reynolds, a 5-foot-9 and 185-pound sophomore from Coral Springs, Fla., presents a slashing style.
"I feel like either with him or me in the backfield it's going to be very hard for the teams try to make sure we're not going to score at all," Harris said.
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Dependability, which proved to be the most important ability at running back for the Demon Deacons last season, will be the deciding factor for who secures the starting spot. It is what Brandon Pendergrass demonstrated after Harris sustained what would be a nagging hamstring injury in the fifth game of the season, a 35-30 win over No. 23 Florida State. Pendergrass, who graduated, led the Deacs in rushing in 2011 with 188 carries for 823 yards and nine touchdowns, while Wake Forest ranked ninth in the ACC in rushing with 114.6 yards per game.
"Coming in we had a lot of questions [at running back]," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe. "Right now that's kind of been one of the bright spots for us. Josh Harris has looked really good. We know Orville can run, and DeAndre Martin's looked really good. Even Tyler Jackson, a walk-on, has done some good things, so the running back spot has been kind of refreshing honestly."
What has arguably been most refreshing for Grobe and Wake's rushing attack is a revitalized Harris, whose performance and effort in practice has not only been strong, but consistent.
"I think the biggest thing that hurts all young people and I'm not saying this is Josh's problem, but so many people are telling them how great they are every day and especially in Josh's case after he put up 240 [yards] at Virginia Tech [as a redshirt freshman]," Grobe said. "From that point forward everybody is telling you how great you are, but you're only as good as today."
"I think he's showing a lot of maturity. I think he realizes that everything's based on performance and that's not just Saturday it's every day. When you perform every day including Saturdays it all works out. I've never been overly critical of him being injured. Injuries happen, but if you're injured a lot you're not dependable. That's not a slam. That's just bottom line, and I think he's having a lot of fun going out every day right now and getting it done. It's just fun for me to watch. He's doing good right now. I don't want to jinx him, but he's doing really good right now."
After carrying 126 times for 764 yards and seven touchdowns to earn honorable mention Freshman All-America honors in 2010, Harris dropped to a disappointing 101 carries for 453 yards and three touchdowns last season due to his ailing hamstring, which has been a source of a motivation for him going into 2012.
"I really haven't wanted to say anything about that [his dependability] all fall camp," Harris said. "It's a lot easier for me to sit here and say yes I'll be healthy, yes I'll be in the game, but it's one thing for you all to actually sit down and see me out there first down, second down, third down, first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter, so I'll just try not to say too much."
Grobe said Harris is practicing well. He added if Harris is going to be successful on Saturdays he needs practice well. What has impressed the head coach most with Harris is how the Texan is doing the simple things, like jogging back to the huddle and showing good energy.
"This is the first time that I can remember that he just has been having good practices every day," Harris said. "He's stayed healthy. That's one thing. He's not having problems right now health-wise. He's got a little bit of a bounce to him."
Reynolds also has a bounce and burst Grobe and his staff are excited about. Grobe removed Reynolds' redshirt status eight games into the season to add depth and a change of pace from the battering ram style of Pendergrass.
In five games Reynolds rushed for 123 yards on 28 carries.
"Josh has the experience," Reynolds said. "He knows the ins and outs. He's played two seasons, so he definitely knows the ins and outs, and he's really good at blocking. He's really fast. We like to compete, so if I see him hit the corner and then if I hit the corner I know I have to go full-speed, because when you look over in tape you'll be like, 'He went full-speed why didn't you go full-speed?'"
"I try to get in and out of the way quick before somebody grabs on to me, because they've got the big muscles, so I try to get touched as least as possible."
The Deacs are hopeful Martin, a solid 6-foot-2 and 215-pound redshirt freshman from Miami, Fla., will be the bruising pounder Pendergrass was, which would add another key element to Wake's running game.
Face for the future …
Wake signed one running back in its 2012 recruiting class, Joshua Wilhite, a 5-foot-10 and 190-pounder from Fresno, Texas, who is battling a knee problem.