The Cavalier Daily
Serving the University Community Since 1890

Running backs step out of Jones' shadow

These three make quite a group. They are all big and brash, as confident in each other as they are in themselves. One is a 20-year-old former high school All-American waiting for his chance to shine, another is the working man's running back - strong and fearless - and the third is the great unknown, capable but unpredictable.

And together, Arlen Harris, Tyree Foreman and Antwoine Womack will try to accomplish an improbable - if not impossible - feat: replace a legend.

Flashback to last football season. These are the headlines: Thomas Jones begins the season with 149 yards. Thomas Jones single-handedly dismantles BYU with two touchdows and a career-high 210 yards. With 168 yards against Florida State, Thomas Jones is still in the race for the Heisman Trophy. And finally, Thomas Jones sets 15 school rushing records and manages to eliminate world hunger in the process.

But now Jones is gone, becoming the Cavs highest NFL Draft pick since 1986, and coach George Welsh needs three men to take his place.

Do they know what they're getting into? Each one will be compared to Jones all season long. They might combine for 200 yards in a game, but that's still not as good as Thomas. They might wear down a defense with a punishing rotation, but Thomas could do that all by himself. But even with the pressure that comes with following Jones, they say they don't think about it. Really.

"We all know that people come and go," Harris said. "We have three strong running backs this year, so we don't even worry about any talk about Thomas."

Related Links
  • Official athletic site for Virginia football

    Of the three backs, Harris has the most to prove. Sure, he is the team's top returning rusher, but those 112 yards last season are less than Jones had in the first half against Florida State. Before this season, the sophomore from Exton, Pa. had been best known for his vocal defense of oft-criticized quarterback Dan Ellis, a high school classmate and close friend.

    But now, Harris has his chance to stand behind Ellis in the backfield on a regular basis. As the trio's most elusive runner, he'll be expected to jumpstart the offense with big plays and long runs. And if that wasn't enough, Harris will also be the team's primary return man on punts and kickoffs and a receiving threat from the tailback position.

    "Arlen is a Barry Sanders type," senior fullback Patrick Washington said. "He might have the best pair of hands on the team. He's a slasher."

    Watch Harris in the weight room, though, and you'll realize that he also has the build and strength to be a complete running back. With Womack as his workout partner, Harris is preparing for his enhanced role by lifting daily at the McCue Center. A few weeks ago, the two broke the team record by power cleaning 331 pounds.

    Foreman doesn't join the rest of the trio for their afternoon workout. He prefers to do his lifting in the morning. After all, one would think Foreman's load would be more intense, considering his running style. While Harris and Womack juke and dash for their yards, the junior 220-pounder prefers to get his the old-fashioned way - up the gut.

    "I'm the power guy," Foreman said. "I know I'm going to have to hit the hole hard every time. I've been really pushing it this summer and getting stronger."

    The third leg is Womack, most likely the opening day starter. After a breakout sophomore year in 1998 where he led the ACC in rushing average and earned second-team all-conference honors, Womack didn't play a down last season. But now with a year-long suspension completed, Womack just wants to play football.

    On the field, he could be the closest thing to Jones - a big runner with open-field speed and shifty moves. But because nobody outside the team has seen him carry a football since April 1999, there's no telling where all that talent will go. However, those close to Womack say he'll be better than anyone expected.

    "He's in rare form," Foreman said. "I think he'll have a great comeback year. People will be surprised."

    Back in the McCue Center weight room, Womack and Harris are finishing off a final set of dumbbell presses. Foreman is on the phone, talking to the media. If you listen closely enough, you can just overhear the words he's speaking into the mouthpiece:

    "Thomas who?"


    Latest Podcast

    Today, we sit down with both the president and treasurer of the Virginia women's club basketball team to discuss everything from making free throws to recent increased viewership in women's basketball.