When Anthon Samuel decided not to return to Bowling Green after the Military Bowl last December, the Falcons’ coaching staff was in an quandary about the running back position.
|BG’s Travis Greene carries the ball during the Mid-American Conference football championship game against Northern Illinois. (Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
The 2013 recruiting class was filled with potential replacements for Samuel, who rushed for 1,842 yards and 16 touchdowns in his two seasons with the Falcons.
However, Bowling Green needed a running back to get through spring drills.
Enter Travis Greene, a high school teammate of Samuel’s, who was a wide receiver with the Falcons.
Greene proved to be much more than spring drills fodder.
The 5-foot-10, 181 pound, redshirt sophomore, exploded for the Falcons this season, rushing for a school-record 1,555 yards with 11 touchdowns. He rushed for 100 or yards more in nine games, also a school record.
Greene’s success in BG’s zone-read offensive scheme is a major reason the Falcons are 10-3 overall, and the Mid-American Conference champions. Bowling Green plays Pittsburgh in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl Thursday at Ford Field. Kickoff is at 6 p.m.
‘‘I will remember the Travis Greene story for as long as I coach,’’ said Adam Scheier, BG’s interim head coach. ‘‘He was buried on the depth chart as a wide receiver. He was moved to running back to get through spring ball, never thinking he would be what he has become. He turned some heads in spring ball, capped it off with a great spring game, and the season speaks for itself.
‘‘What an unbelievable story, and a testament to his perseverance, his work ethic, his commitment to this program,’’ Scheier continued. ‘‘He’s being rewarded, and we’re all benefitting from it.’’
Greene was making plays right from the start of spring practice.
‘‘He’s so hard to tackle,’’ said BG’s Paul Swan, a linebacker and team captain. ‘‘In spring ball we would get so frustrated, he would be making these cuts, and coach would be yelling at us. We’re like — ‘This guy is tough to tackle.’
‘‘We knew he was going to be great for us. Record-breaking great, I don’t know if anybody could have called that,’’ Swan continued. ‘‘It’s just awesome to see a kid who works so hard, who just grinds every day, to see the success that he’s having right now.’’
Greene welcomed the opportunity to play running back.
‘‘I definitely think I’m a better running back (than wide receiver),’’ Green said. ‘‘The best thing I think I contribute to the team is having the ball in my hands and making plays.
‘‘I knew the standard Anthon set, and my job was to come in and go over and beyond that.’’
Greene credits the blocking from the offensive line and the tight ends as a major reason for his success.
‘‘Game in and game out they open holes for me,’’ Greene said.
‘‘When the blocker pulls and leads the way, and they are coming around that corner the defensive back or the linebacker doesn’t see them coming and they get smacked. The hole opens up, and it’s off to the races,’’ Greene added with a smile on his face.
Greene said his strength is making plays in the open field.
‘‘A lot of people, I don’t think are great open field tacklers. So when we get in the open field, I feel my chances are better,’’ Greene said.
‘‘The thing that makes him special is his ability to make people miss,’’ Scheier said. ‘‘It’s scary to think of the numbers he would put up, if his 40 time was a little bit faster.
‘‘But his ability to make people miss in tight space is unbelievable, and he runs strong for somewhat slight tailback; he breaks a lot of tackles.’’
Greene said one of his goals for the season was to rush for 1,000 yards. The school record was not under consideration.
‘‘That never came to mind. That was never one of my goals,’’ Greene said about the school record, which was 1,444 yards set by Fred Durig in 1951. ‘‘My goal was to make 1,000 yards. Anthon and I talked about it, and he said it’s doable.
‘‘When somebody told me I was close to the record, that was when I thought I might as well go ahead and chase it.’’
Samuel and Greene remain close friends, talking with each other at least once a week.
‘‘He’s been a great supporter this whole year for me,’’ Greene said. ‘‘It was bittersweet. We became good friends in 10th grade. We were going to go to college together, and we were going to do everything together. When he left, my friend was gone, so I stepped up.’’