While senior running backs Darius Anderson and Sewo Olonilua dominated the carries in the TCU backfield this past season, Horned Frog fans got a brief glimpse of the future in the form of true freshmen Darwin Barlow and Daimarqua Foster.
Both four-star prospects before arriving on campus, the two talented rushers combined for 30 carries and 165 yards on the ground in 2019. Foster appeared in only one game, but he helped TCU ice a decisive victory over Kansas with eight carries for 66 yards and his first collegiate touchdown in the 51-14 win. Barlow received more action, playing in three games and compiling 99 rushing yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Foster and Barlow each preserved redshirt seasons entering the 2020 campaign.
With Anderson and Olonilua gone to the NFL, the spotlight will shift toward the new two-man tandem of Foster and Barlow, who was named an Athlon Sports Preseason All-Big 12 Fourth Team nominee. While it’s early to predict which player will break out this fall, it’s likely that both running backs will earn the opportunity for reps, as TCU has gone with a rusher-by-committee approach over the last few seasons.
One upperclassman returning this fall who took part in that committee was Emari Demercado, who will be TCU’s most experienced running back in 2020 as a redshirt junior. Although Demercado didn’t see many carries this past season, mainly due to Anderson and Olonilua dominating the backfield, he played a more significant role in 2018, recording 232 total yards on 57 carries and five pass receptions. Also, Demercado was able to preserve a redshirt in 2019, and his experience will prove valuable to the Horned Frogs this fall.
TCU RB Emari Demercado: "I’d much rather deliver the blow than take the blow. I like to picture myself as an all-around back." https://t.co/ipwOfQYtbC— Drew Davison (@drewdavison) November 21, 2018
And then there’s Zach Evans, the first five-star recruit in program history whose whirlwind recruitment process ultimately ended with enrolling at TCU. It’s difficult to deny his on-field talents, and even though there are some questions about him off the field, Evans possesses elite skills and college-ready size that could make him the breakout star of the 2020 season. His rushing style has been compared to one of the greatest college and NFL running backs ever, and as a high-schooler, Evans led North Shore to two Texas 6A D-I state titles.
TCU signed 1st ever 5-star croot today, RB Zach Evans (ex-UGA commit)— Thor Nystrom (@thorku) May 11, 2020
This is Evans, high schooler, squatting 600+ bills
Evans (6’2/200) draws “(Adrian Peterson comps) in Texas high school circles thanks to massive production, upright running style”
It could be tempting for Horned Frog fans to pencil Evans in as the starter because of his five-star status, but we must remember there are three incumbents with game experience including two very talented underclassmen in Barlow and Foster. Starting reps won’t be given to any of these players, and whoever emerges from camp as the Week 1 starter (or co-starter even) against California will need to prove himself throughout the summer and fall. Evans didn’t arrive on campus until June, according to Jeremy Clark of 247Sports, and with only a few months before the 2020 season kicks off, how quickly Evans can gain ground will be determined in due time.
If Evans opens the season behind the other running backs, TCU could always limit his game reps and preserve his redshirt, allowing him to receive another year of eligibility. On the other hand, Evans shining in camp and earning starting reps could mean lost playing time for one (or two) of the other running backs, which could unfortunately lead to a transfer given today’s Division I football culture and the introduction of the transfer portal.
Ultimately, however, it’s a good problem to have for the Horned Frogs, who will roll into 2020 with one of the most talented backfields in the Big 12 and perhaps the country. With many starting spots up for grabs around the field, the running back position will be arguably the most exciting to see who steps up as the season-opener approaches.