MADISON — Last season, the Badgers relied on the combined power of running backs Corey Clement and Dare Ogunbowale to drive their offense, and boy, were they a scary right hook and uppercut.
Leading up to the fall kickoff, many are wondering who will fill the roles of since graduated Clement and Ogunbowale.
Since the split carry system is relatively rare, the immediate assumption is that the Badgers will take the traditional route and rely on one running back. Furthermore, with two abundantly talented backs in Chris James and Bradrick Shaw, again, the assumption remains that the two are in the midst of an intense and dramatic battle for the starting role. That story sounds exciting, and would do well as an attention grabber, but if it’s not true, let’s give it a rest already.
I’ve spoken with both Shaw and James about the public assumption, and they’ve both responded with the same answer: their goal is to win games, not the starting job. Granted, they’re both competitive as hell, but that doesn’t mean they’re constantly trying to one up one another: rather, they’re trying to learn all they can to help the team win, not to boost their status.
When asked about the perceived battle, Shaw put it simply: “I see it more as competitive energy. I’m just trying to make myself a better player [and] a complete running back.”
Self-improvement and taking each day as it comes is an obvious theme among athletes, and Shaw is no different, saying, “Coach Chryst tells us every day at practice ‘That day is over.’ [And] we just gotta take advantage of the next opportunity we have.”
Pitt transfer and electric runner Chris James feels identically. “We don’t really see it as a battle,” James said. “We’re just trying to come out here and showcase what we can do [for the team], we know the opportunity that’s at hand.”
James continued to emphasize that he and Shaw aren’t trying to get in each other’s way. “Off the field, we’re best friends,” he said. “I think we’re a great group, as far as a one-two punch, I think we compliment each other really well.”
That complimentary mindset hearkens back to Clement and Ogunbowale, and what an effective mindset that was, especially after seeing what that system did for the team. Shaw feels like he progressed immensely after being around Clement and Ogunbowale last season.
“I looked up to guys like Corey [Clement] and Dare [Ogunbowale] last year, I feel like watching them made me a better running back.”
Learning from that terrific tandem last year is priceless, but there’s still a massive chunk of production that’ll have to be replaced. Corey Clement racked up 1,375 yards last season, and James mentioned how if the Badgers can produce another 1,000 yard rusher, bowl games and playoffs become a real reality, not to mention putting a target on the Badgers’ back.
“Coach is always telling us, ‘teams are coming for us this year,'” said James.
In essence, James and Shaw are both deserving of the starting job, but neither is worried about who gets it. When crunch time rolls around, and someone needs to step up in the clutch, the Badgers should take solace in the fact that both James and Shaw feel they have the ability to be that guy. In the mean time, both are keen on sharpening their skills to become the most polished weapons possible.