With Rock football’s workhorse Shamar Greene out for a few weeks due to a shoulder injury, the nationally-renowned running game of Slippery Rock needs to find a new player to run the ball. Out of six other running backs, freshman Dontez Rash won the job and will be getting his first career start against Indiana (Pa.) University this Saturday.
“All week I’ve been preparing for this game,” Rash said. “Watching film and doing the little things correct is how I got the starting spot. With Shamar’s injury, I knew I was the next man up.”
Rash’s battle for the starting position did not go without competition. While he was the only freshman running back receiving time this season, running backs redshirt senior Dominic Dingle and redshirt junior Isiah Neely were both looking to get the job as well.
Each of the two Rock veterans had experience on the field prior to this year. Both Dingle and Neely were active in the run game for the Rock within the past two seasons. Dingle rushed for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns on 42 attempts last season, which earned him more playing time this year as he has already ran the ball 37 times in 4 fewer games. Neely, on the other hand, was The Rock’s third leading rusher last season running the ball 119 times for 654 yards and 5 touchdowns, but has not seen nearly as much action this season.
Despite their track records, Rash bested his two teammates to win the job. He got his first glimpse of his new role when Greene went down in SRU’s last game against Mercyhurst University. He contributed 102 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground to The Rock’s 37-25 win.
Rash said that the decision has not caused any confrontation between the running back corp because he knows that the job could be lost at any moment.
“They know that the coaches will put in whoever the best man is at that moment,” Rash said. “If I’m doing bad, Isiah or Dominic is going to get in. If Isaiah was doing bad, then it’d be me or Dominic. It goes both ways.”
Rock head coach Shawn Lutz felt this was Rash’s moment. Though he said all three will get snaps, Rash is his man against the Crimson Hawks.
“He has the best ability to make positive yards running the ball,” Lutz said.
It is an ability Rash has had since high school. Rash was on Benedictine High School’s (Cleveland) state championship team and gained all-state honors. His play gained him Division I attention and he initially committed to Ohio University. But circumstances would not permit it, which is when Rash began to become more serious about Slippery Rock.
Rash’s girlfriend’s father, who he considers his mentor, had a relationship with Lutz prior to his recruitment. Rash said that helped him develop a better relationship with his new coach and ultimately flip from green and grey to the Green and White.
Now a member of the team, Rash will get his first career start, and it will be an ironic one. Rash’s first experience seeing a Slippery Rock game was last season win over IUP, and when he took his official visit, he shadowed Greene, the teammate he will be replacing.
Greene will be on the sideline coaching Rash up the entire game. He said he is confident that his replacement can carry the load until he is healthy again, but if he wants to really prove himself, he said he needs to give the Crimson Hawks everything he has.
“This not a team where we are just going to go and walk in there,” Greene said. “He needs to hold onto the ball, get between the tackles, and protect the quarterback when it’s time to do that too.”
Rash is only a freshman being thrown into the fire. He said he is still trying to get adjusted to college life and being away from home. He has not even selected a major yet and is already starting in what is annually the most highly anticipated game in the regular season. Rash said that he is accepting the challenge and said he can only focus on one thing.
“I’ve just been thinking ‘go out there and get the W’,” Rash said. “Starting wasn’t much to me because I knew I was getting in regardless. I just really wanted to go out there and help my team get the W.”
Rash and the coaching staff has a lot of confidence in his ability, but the only thing that will determine if Rash was the right decision is when time runs out at the end of the fourth quarter on Saturday in Indiana.