When the 2011 college football season opened it offered a big challenge for California Golden Bears' running back coach Ron Grould as Shane Vereen decided to skip his senior year and enter the NFL Draft. If Vereen had stayed there would have been no question that he would be one of the best running backs in the Pac-12 conference, that of course did not happen as Vereen was selected in the second round as the 56th pick by the New England Patriots.
Vereen in his sophomore season backed up Jahvid Best and after he suffered a season ending concussion, Vereen took over as starter and in his junior season for the first time. In just two years he carried 414 times for 2,119 yards, a 5.1 yards per carry average, 25 touchdowns and also caught a total of 47 passes for 453 yards and five touchdowns.
With Vereen leaving for the NFL it meant that the Bears didn't have much experience in the backfield as Isi Sofele became the starter and in two years had just 81 carries while backing up Vereen and Best. C.J. Anderson a junior college transfer became Sofele's backup.
The knock on Sofele was his size he's 5'8 190 pounds and there were questions if he could get the tough yards? Could he be the featured back taking a majority of the carries, could he hang onto the football in a crowd and could he block?
Sofele has answered those questions and then some! What's been interesting watching Sofele run the football is that he starts out the game slow and ends up finishing the game strong. Barring injury Sofele still has three games to play and could be pushing his way towards a 1,500 yard season.
For the year so far he became another Bears running back in Gould's tenure to hit the 1,000 yard rushing mark and came off his best game in his college career with 190 yards against the Oregon State Beavers. He has 190 carries, 1,029 yards, a 5.4 yards per carry average and eight touchdowns so far.
Yet, what really has been impressive about Sofele is the power he has when he runs with the football. He has twice lowered his shoulder and knocked defenders off of him who were looking to make a tackle on him. One of those collisions saw Dietrich Riley of the UCLA Bruins being carted off the field.
Besides the surprising strength that Sofele has shown he has done a tremendous job of taking care of the football, only has fumbled once this year and he does a solid job of blocking for quarterback Zach Maynard.
For Gould this season proves why he is the best running back coach in the country. Of late he has had the ability to groom running backs into the starting spot with the likes of Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best and Vereen and this year he had a running back with limited experience and he projects to have one of the best seasons in Bears history running the football.