The Tribe offense seemed to be firing on all cylinders last season, as the team racked up nearly 30 points and 400 yards of offense per game. Most of that was done, however, without two of the unit’s top weapons: senior running back DeBrian Holmes and junior wide receiver D.J. McAulay.
McAulay was having a career performance (seven catches for 162 yards and a touchdown) in the Tribe’s season-opening 49-31 loss against the University of Delaware last season when Tribe sophomore running back Courtland Marriner and a Delaware defender rolled up on the back of his knee. An MRI later revealed an MCL injury that would require surgery, and McAulay spent the rest of his season as a spectator.
“It was definitely devastating. It’s always tough to watch from the sideline when you’re a player,” McAulay said. “But I feel like I’ve bounced back pretty well. I didn’t expect to be this far ahead right now.”
Holmes’ season came to a sudden end on the Tribe’s third game of the season, when he suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter of a 48-41 win over Liberty University. Holmes had ripped off 96 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries prior to the season-ending hit.
“It was pretty tough mentally, being out there one moment and being on the sideline on crutches the next,” Holmes said.
Both return this season with hopes of giving even more of a lift to a team loaded with skill position players. McAulay, one of the Tribe’s fastest athletes, will line up alongside fellow deep threat WRs Elliott Mack, a senior, and sophomore Cameron Dohse (each recorded 18 yards per catch or better last year), giving senior quarterback Jake Phillips a formidable receiving corps.
“With all three of us [on the field], we open up a lot of holes in the defense,” McAulay said.
Holmes, the Tribe’s elder statesman at the running back position, will take on a leadership role as he headlines a three-man rushing attack that also features the lightning-quick Marriner and bruising sophomore Terrence Riggins.
“I think I bring a little bit of experience. I’m like the oldest guy on the team,” the 23-year-old Holmes said with a laugh.
Both McAulay and Holmes are still dealing with the residual effects of their injuries, particularly soreness, but neither thinks the injuries are something that will impact their performance by the time the season starts.
Head Coach Jimmye Laycock is more cautious in his assessment.
“They’re still feeling their way. They’re not where they were when they went out with their injuries last year,” Laycock said. “Hopefully we’ll get them to that point, but they’re not there yet.”
Assuming both Holmes and McAulay have successful recoveries, the Tribe looks to be loaded on the offensive side of the ball. The unit has eight returning starters and brings back 90 percent of last season’s total offense, making expectations high for this year’s unit — something that is not lost on the two returnees.
“I feel like every game we should be putting up a lot of points and a lot of yardage,” McAulay said. “It should be a sound unit.”