Out of the doghouse
SALISBURY — Catawba was playing at Newberry on Sept. 20, a tough game that went to overtime, and offensive coordinator Kevin Brown made a call for a package that included freshman running back Eamon Smart.
Unfortunately, Smart had zoned out. He wasn’t close by, wasn’t ready, wasn’t prepared to enter the game.
“It happens with freshmen sometimes,” head coach Curtis Walker said. “He didn’t think his number would be called and he’d gotten caught up in watching the game.”
Veterans Cary Littlejohn and Trey Mashore covered for Smart — Littlejohn blocked, Mashore carried — and the Indians ran the play and moved on. Catawba won in overtime, but the talented Smart, who made steady progress, found himself in the doghouse for almost two weeks.
“I want to play,” Smart said. “There was nothing to do but practice as hard as I could.”
The freshman running back fourth on the depth chart — Catawba has three good ones in David Burgess, Littlejohn and Mashore — had to pay a few dues. Smart started over, slowly winning back the confidence of coaches and teammates.
“Eamon had that rough game, and he was benched, but he kept working,” Brown said. “He didn’t play against Carson-Newman the week after Newberry, but he earned another chance in practice.”
That second chance came in Saturday’s 51-21 win against Tusculum after Mashore got banged up. Smart carried 15 times for 81 yards, and Catawba’s three-headed monster at running back suddenly sprouted a fourth head.
Smart helped the Indians rush for 383 yards and top 500 yards of offense for the second straight week. It was the first time in the history of the program the Indians had back-to-back 500-yard games. It didn’t even happen when Luke Samples was throwing and Rodney Wallace was carrying the ball.
Speaking of Wallace, that’s who people think of when they think of Smart, who packs 230 pounds on a 5-foot-10 frame.
“He looked like Rodney on Saturday,” Brown said. “We’ve got our power back now.”
Tackling Smart is like trying to stop a bowling ball rolling downhill because he has 4.6 speed to go along with his thick shoulders. He was a 1,500-yard, 20-TD guy at Cape Coral High in Florida, where he averaged better than 7 yards per carry.
“Eamon is going to run through arm tackles,” Catawba quarterback Mike Sheehan said. “It’s great having him for short-yardage situations, but he’s also quicker than he looks. He’ll break some big ones.”
Sheehan had another great day Saturday. Brown said he performed a “Peyton Manning impression,” in terms of checking plays at the line and getting the Indians into favorable matchups.
“Tusculum was very concerned about helping on (Catawba receiver) Carlos Tarrats and that gave us a chance to do some things,” Sheehan said. “There was a formation where we had three receivers to the right, one to the left, and they would overload their defense to the strong side. When they overloaded, they couldn’t stop us from running the ball to the weak side. That’s what we did.”
Smart had a 17-yard TD run on one of those plays.
“Mike checked that play at the line, the offensive line did a great job, and all I had to do was make a cut or two,” Smart said.
That was Smart’s first college TD. He’ll remember it, but it won’t be the last. As Brown said, Catawba has found a power back — one more piece fitting into the large puzzle of rebuilding the program.
“On Saturday, Eamon did the things we thought he could do,” Walker said.
After Smart reached the end zone, he showed just how fast he can move.
“I wanted to congratulate the young man, but I had to chase him down the sideline,” Walker said with a laugh. “He’s fast.”
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.