A team already saturated with quality running backs, Northwest Missouri State uncovered another one Saturday.
Not even used as a running back until the final practice of the spring Thursday, redshirt freshman Josh Swanson played a starring role in the White team's 17-9 over the Green in Northwest's spring game at Bearcat Stadium.
Swanson finished as the leading rusher in the game, averaging close to five yards per pop, and scored one of the White team's two touchdowns on a 4-yard run in the second quarter.
Pretty impressive stuff for a guy who only three days before was still playing fullback and tight end.
"He had probably 20 snaps at tailback and then he came in and did the things he did today," said Northwest Missouri State head coach Adam Dorrel. "That old adage don't come out of the huddle because you never know who's going in rang true. I think he proved to us that he can play tailback. He's very good with the ball in his hands. I was very impressed with him today."
Northwest sat its top four returning rushers from last year with injuries, giving Swanson a chance to be the White team's feature back.
In his first extended look, the 6-1, 230-pound Gehring, Ill, native displayed a powerful, downhill running style that was difficult for the Green defense to contain.
"He's so big," said Dorrel. "He was running tough today and running hard in the tackles."
Swanson's spring game emergence leaves Dorrel with some tough choices to make entering next season.
Between him, James Franklin III, Billy Creason, Kohlman Adema-Schulte, Denver Lohnes and Justin Fulks, the Bearcats have six legitimate options at running back.
Dorrel says at least one of the back-ups is due for a position switch.
"We're so confident that we have to look at moving a couple of those kids to get them on the field. That's what we're going to do," said Dorrel.
Fulks, a redshirt freshman, came into the game with the most buzz of any healthy Northwest back, but struggled to get in rhythm behind a Green offensive line that Dorrel says played poorly.
The Blue Valley (Kan.) product had one nice run in the first half that accounted for most of his ground production.
"Justin Fulks had a really, really good spring, one of the better springs I've seen out of any redshirt freshman since I've been here in 2004," said Dorrel. "I was really hoping you'd get to see him shine today. He really didn't. I'm disappointed for him because he had 13 really good practices coming into today."
Fulks' Green team never found the end zone and only navigated past midfield twice in another spring game largely controlled by both defenses.
Page 2 of 3 - White scored the only two offensive touchdowns in the second quarter to lead 14-0 at half, while both of Green's scores were produced by the defense in the second half.
Linebacker Jayron Robinson dumped freshman Kyle Zimmerman for a safety in the third quarter and Alex Taylor picked off a late throw from Zimmerman to the boundary and returned it 40 yards for Green's lone touchdown in the fourth.
Second-year starter Trevor Adams led the White team on both of its second quarter scoring drives and threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to tight end Joel Gantz.
Adams finished 5-10 with 75 yards, with all but one of his completions coming on intermediate or crossing routes.
Dorrel praised Adams for a third and 18 play during the scrimmage in which he threw short of the mark to Gantz for 10 yards to get the White team in field goal range.
"That really stood out today," said Dorrel. "When you see that, he gets it. I walked right up to him and he looked right at me and winked."
Projected back-up Brady Bolles quarterbacked the Green team the entire first half and on occasion in the second half.
The scrambling sophomore-to-be was touch-sacked often, putting the Green team in hard-to-manage down and distance situations
He completed his first two tosses to Clint Utter and Reuben Thomas for first downs, but mis-fired on his remaining down field attempts.
The greyshirted Zimmerman took snaps with both offenses in the second half and was the only quarterback allowed to get hit.
He drew praise from Dorrel despite the two critical mistakes that allowed Green to get back in the game.
"Obviously, the interception was a poor decision, but he did some pretty good things for a redshirt freshman in his first spring game," said Dorrel.
Zimmerman's pick-six was the only turnover by either offense. However, Northwest's special teams units endured their share of sloppy play.
Northwest punter Kyle Goodburn dropped a snap and had another kick that was blocked, setting up short fields for the White teams. Cornerback Brian Dixon also mis-handled a short punt that prevented the Green team from having a chance to tie late in the fourth quarter.
"The thing that's the most glaring disappointment to me was the special teams," said Dorrel. "We were going non-live for the most part with our special teams. The blocked punt, which we kicked into our own guy and muffing the return at the end when they would've had great field position to go in and a chance to score a touchdown and go for two. We'll learn from it. We'll assess that."
Northwest's two defensive units permitted only one touchdown drive of longer than 40 yards the whole game.
Page 3 of 3 - The White defense didn't allow any offensive points, while the Green kept White out of the end zone in three of four quarters—two of which were played with a constant running clock.
Only once did either defense give up a play of over 20 yards.
"I thought the tackling was pretty good for the most part," said Dorrel. "When you go through spring practice and you don't tackle, it's hard."
Each offense went scoreless on their only full first quarter possessions.
White broke a scoreless tie with 6:44 left in the second quarter on Adams' 23-yard hook-up to Gantz.
This capped a 7-play, 54-yard drive that contained a fourth and two conversion from Swanson.
After a three-out from the Green, Goodburn's dropped snap gave White the ball back at the 20-yard line.
White quickly capitalized on the error to go up 14-0.
Adams completed a 12-yard pass to Trey Graf on a third-and six down to the 4-yard line. One play later, Swanson barreled in for a touchdown with 2:11 left in the half.
After the safety made it 14-2 early in the third quarter, freshman Ben Trewyn increased White's lead to 17-2 on a 41-yard field goal with 5:51 left.
Each of the next three possessions ended with punts.
Taylor's pick-six with 5:29 left brought Green within eight points.
They were poised to get the ball back with a chance to tie until Dixon's muffed punt.
White ran off remaining time to secure the victory.
"I think we got out of it what we wanted to get out of it," said Dorrel. "We try to simulate game situations as much as possible and see which guys make plays and which guys struggle a little bit in that type of pressure situation. I thought with the crowd they gave us the kind of environment we wanted."
Northwest will take the rest of the school year off to focus on finals.
Summer conditioning begins in May.
The team's season opener is Sept. 5 against Saginaw Valley State at Bearcat Stadium.
"This spring was great," said Adams. "We really got better. Summer is going to be huge for us building even more of that identity that we want to have as a team to be ready for the fall."