Ball State has 4 potential starters at running back

<p>Sophomore running back Markice Hurt Jr. runs the ball during the first quarter of the Homecoming game against Central Michigan Oct. 21, 2017, in Scheumann Stadium. The Cardinals lost 56-9. Kaiti Sullivan, DN</p>

Sophomore running back Markice Hurt Jr. runs the ball during the first quarter of the Homecoming game against Central Michigan Oct. 21, 2017, in Scheumann Stadium. The Cardinals lost 56-9. Kaiti Sullivan, DN

Markice Hurt Jr. knows you’ve probably never heard of him.

He knows his No. 24 probably isn’t the jersey you went to the game to see.

He knows in the slight chance he gets on the field, you’ll probably say, “Who’s that guy?”

Ask his teammates and coaches, though, and odds are you’ll be chanting his name before his time is up as a Cardinal.

“We have a secret weapon. His name is Markice Hurt, so be on the lookout for him,” redshirt junior running back James Gilbert said. “I don’t know what game it’s going to be this season, but he’s going to break out, and he’s going to have a good career here at Ball State.”

A 247Sports two-star recruit out of Michigan City High School in Indiana, Hurt had every intention of contributing when he arrived at Ball State. However, the sophomore's plan would have to wait, as an injury kept him sidelined for the first six games of the 2017 season.

Ironically, Gilbert, a Mid-American Conference first teamer in 2016, went down for the year after week three, giving then-freshman Caleb Huntley a chance to showcase his abilities. By the time Hurt had healed from his injury, Huntley had already taken on the role as the clear replacement and would end the season with more than 1,000 rushing yards.

Hurt did appear in the final six games of the season. In fact, on the first play of his collegiate career he made a 24-yard catch for a first down. Two weeks later, he set career highs in carries (10) and rushing yards (52).

“Coming in as kind of an unknown, under the radar type of guy,”  head coach Mike Neu said. “[Hurt has] made the most of his opportunities so far, and he’s only going to get better as he gets older and becomes more mature.”

With Gilbert healthy and Huntley and junior Malik Dunner frequently accepting tailback duties in other formations, Hurt has primarily been used during garbage time. He recorded 10 carries for 43 yards at the end of the Cardinals’ blowout win over Central Connecticut State. He also added 28 yards on five carries in the lopsided loss to Indiana.

Hurt said he feels as though he has the capability of being a starter, but he understands his role on the team.

“My mindset is really just staying focused,” Hurt said. “Things that I’m going through right now, a lot of people can steer off track and get discouraged. I’m staying focused, being on my academics and being a better person and player than I was last year.”

Hurt isn’t the only one confident in his abilities. In Gilbert’s eyes, which player holds the starting running back position could be determined by rolling a die. He said any one of four athletes - himself, Huntley, Dunner or Hurt - could start on any given week.

“Any four of us could be a starter in my eyes,” Gilbert said. “Markice has great hands, and he makes people miss [tackles]. We call him ‘Sweet Feet ’Kice.’ He’s going to turn some heads this year.”

Neu said all the running backs have been unselfish, and Gilbert’s belief truly reflects the competitiveness of the position.

“That says a lot when your teammate at the same position makes that statement,” Neu said. “We feel the exact same way as a staff that we do have four starting running backs on this football team. We feel very confident, whoever is in the football game, that there’s going to be some very good things happening with our running game.”

Neu said Hurt hasn’t approached his situation with frustration and has handled it the best he possibly could. In his limited playing time, Hurt said he’s looking to show everyone his full potential.

“Even though I’m a smaller back, I’m good,” Hurt said. “I can run between the tackles, catch out of the backfield and just definitely show my versatility.”

Dunner said he’s reminded of himself when he looks at Hurt and has adopted a mentor role.

“It’s kind of the same situation as me when I got here,” Dunner said. “They didn’t know much about me until I started making plays. Markice is going to do that.”

“He’s got a really, really, really bright future ahead of him," running backs coach Kevin Lynch added. "He knows that when his time comes, he’s going to shine, and it’s a marathon not a sprint.”

Contact Zach Piatt with comments at zapiatt@bsu.edu or on Twitter @zachpiatt13.

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