FOOTBALL: Diminutive running back shows he can make the big runs

Parrish uses Sykes in key situations on Opening Night

Cory Sykes has always been at his best when he can get into the open field and show that he is the fastest player on the field.

So it made sense when Stan Parrish dialed up plays like the jet sweep to showcase the junior running back's speed in Ball Stat's 27-10 victory against Southeast Missouri State on Thursday.

What was surprising for many observers was when Parrish called on Sykes in short-yardage situations. Of the Cardinals' talented running back trio, Sykes is the smallest at just 160 pounds. Parrish could have used trusted senior MiQuale Lewis or Eric Williams, who is by far the biggest of Ball State's running backs.

But there was Sykes, moving the chains multiple times on third-and-one.

"I never doubt myself," he said. "I'm small, but I think I can get the tough yards when I need to."

Sykes rushed for 70 yards and two touchdowns in Ball State's Opening Night victory. He didn't lead the team in rushing, Williams held that honor with 105 yards and a touchdown, but he did make quite an impression on Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel.

After the game, Samuel told Parrish why the Redhawks had such a tough time stopping the Cardinals' rushing attack.

"He said, ‘Those little backs, we can't see them,'" Parrish said. "People always said that about Quale, the other coaches. [Former Central Michigan coach] Butch Jones used to say that all the time."

Sykes and Lewis, who added 42 yards, stand about 5-foot-6. It's easy for them to hide behind the 6-foot-4 offensive linemen blocking in front of them.

Even though Sykes is small, Williams said his teammate isn't afraid of putting his shoulders down for an extra yard.

"When I first met Cory, Cory took a lot of hits in a lot of games," Williams said. "He always would bounce back up. He doesn't back down from any challenge, no matter how big or how fast you are."

As for the belief he's not the type of running back who can run between the tackles and pick up tough yards, Sykes isn't sure where it came from.

"I don't know why people think I'm not," he deadpanned. "I'm the strongest on the team."

When Sykes made that statement in Thursday's postgame press conference, three of his teammates couldn't help but laugh. Sykes is probably OK with that. If he keeps surprising opponents in short-yardage situations, the Cardinals will keep having the last laugh.