College Sports

Given chance in Charlotte 49ers’ backfield, is there any catching Aaron McAllister now?

Charlotte 49ers tailback Aaron McAllister (38) rushed for 157 yards against Western Kentucky last Saturday.
Charlotte 49ers tailback Aaron McAllister (38) rushed for 157 yards against Western Kentucky last Saturday. AP

Charlotte 49ers tailback Aaron McAllister doesn’t like being caught from behind and he wasn’t about to let it happen again.

When McAllister broke into the open early in the second quarter of the Charlotte 49ers’ game against Western Kentucky last Saturday, all he saw was open space between himself and the goal line, nearly a full football field away.

But as McAllister sprinted downfield, all he could think about was another time he had run free earlier in the season. That came against Kansas State, when McAllister thought he would score, but was instead pulled down from behind at the 19 by the Wildcats’ A.J. Parker, bringing to an end a 66-yard kick return.

“That was the first time that had ever happened to me when I had the ball in my hands,” McAllister said. “I was pretty mad.”

This time, McAllister out-ran the Western Kentucky defense and completed an 89-yard touchdown run, the longest in 49ers history.

It was the highlight of a 157-yard, two-touchdown game for McAllister – all in relief of starting tailback Benny LeMay, who sat out the game with a concussion.

LeMay is expected back in the lineup Saturday when the 49ers (0-7, 0-3 Conference USA) face Ala.-Birmingham at Richardson Stadium. But McAllister’s performance against Western Kentucky means Charlotte might be able to add another offensive dimension against the Blazers (4-2, 2-1).

“It’s a great problem to have,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “It gives Aaron more opportunities instead of having Benny carry the load for us, because Aaron carried that load last game. I feel confident with that.”

Although McAllister, a 6-foot, 216-pound redshirt freshman, played both ways at Suwanee High in Live Oak, Fla., the 49ers recruited him as a defensive back. But two days before preseason practice began and seeing the 49ers needed more depth in the offensive backfield, Lambert asked McAllister if would switch to offense.

“It wasn’t a biggie for me,” said McAllister. “I told him, yes I’d do it. I’d played that position in high school. But patience was going to be the key, because I knew I wouldn’t play right away.”

Indeed, McAllister’s main contributions were on special teams early in the season – as evidenced by his long kick return against Kansas State. But McAllister was elevated to second team when Robert Washington left the team in September. And when LeMay, who already had two games in which he had rushed for more than 150 yards, went out with a concussion against Marshall on Oct. 7, it was McAllister’s time.

He played well in the late stages of the Marshall game, then made a “Here I am” statement against Western Kentucky, against whom he averaged 7.1 yards on 22 carries.

So, with LeMay and quarterback Hasaan Klugh (who missed the Western Kentucky game with an illness) back, Lambert will have more offensive options.

“We’ll try to split the carries evenly if Benny is back at full speed and let him start the game,” Lambert said. “We’re more comfortable now with Aaron coming in the game.”

Then there will be the matter of whether the potential new offensive punch will be enough to push the 49ers over the top and into the win column for the first time this season.

“In the locker room, it’s about staying positive,” said McAllister. “You’re going to go through things like this. You’re going to win and lose and have to fight through adversity. That’s what we keep telling each other. It’s a brotherhood thing. We’ve got to stay positive and focused and God will find a way for us to get a (win).”

David Scott: @davidscott14