It’s not easy to slow down Thomas Rawls. It’s even harder to stop him.
The sophomore running back put on a clinic in the Michigan football team’s Spring Game on Saturday afternoon at Michigan Stadium. Seeing significant time as the backup to redshirt junior tailback Fitzgerald Toussaint, Rawls scored the only two touchdowns of the game.
But it wasn’t the stats that made Rawls the highlight of the annual intrasquad scrimmage — it was the path of destruction he left in his wake.
Early in the event, Rawls took a handoff from redshirt freshman quarterback Russell Bellomy and found a seam in the offensive line. He broke an arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and burst into the secondary.
That’s where freshman safety Jarrod Wilson, an early-enrollee, learned that Rawls isn’t easily stopped.
Wilson met Rawls head on, but bounced off the 5-foot-10, 219-pound tailback in a massive collision and fell to the ground as Rawls scampered past and into the end zone.
He might look like a pipsqueak in the backfield, but there’s something different about Rawls. Just ask his teammates.
“He is an animal,” said redshirt junior left tackle Taylor Lewan.
“I think he’s like a bowling ball, man,” said fifth-year senior safety Jordan Kovacs. “He’s a grinder on offense.”
“He’s a different kind of runner — he’s a battering-ram-type guy,” said offensive coordinator Al Borges.
Animal, bowling ball or battering ram, Rawls made an impact during spring camp, earning rave reviews from Borges and Michigan coach Brady Hoke. Though Toussaint certainly has the starting running back spot locked up, Rawls could prove to be an important asset in the backfield.
“When Thomas hits you, you’re going to feel it,” Borges said. “He makes no concessions to the defense. He’s got a little bit of stop-and-go ability, but I wouldn’t say that’s his game. His game is running through people and making himself very difficult to tackle and falling forward.”
Rawls played in 10 games as a freshman last season, collecting 79 yards on 13 carries. From his teammates’ point of view, those numbers have no place to go but up.
“I’m not surprised at all at what he did today,” Lewan said. “The sky’s the limit for him, and he’s going to be an awesome back to have in this group.”
Senior defensive end Craig Roh echoed Kovacs’ assessment of Rawls being a bowling ball, and he even went further.
“Rawls is my new favorite player on our team — he’s just a guy that will bulldoze people over,” Roh said. “It’s fun to watch. He’ll just throw guys.”
How is that different from last season?
“He’s not as spazzy as he was before,” Roh said, laughing. “He’d get the ball and fall over, basically. I think now he’s starting to get his stride a little bit, where he’s making cuts and making good decisions.”
With a year of experience under his belt — and his first spring camp out of the way — Rawls will be a serious contender for the No. 2 running back position in the fall.
“He’s not the tallest guy,” Kovacs said. “He’s short and stocky, but he runs hard (and) he lowers his pads.
“Sometimes, he doesn’t really see where he’s going, but he makes his own way and just puts his head down and runs hard. As a defense, you respect that.”
NOTE: The football program did not sell tickets to the Mott Spring Game on Saturday, but it did accept donations at the stadium and through a text-messaging system.
According to Athletic Department officials, the event raised over $161,000 for the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, not including the text-message donations. That number will reportedly be matched by a University alum.