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Three-back attack: DWU's rushing yards have come from a committee

Dakota Wesleyan University's Luke Loudenburg (23) bounces outside his guard Dakota Wesleyan University's Ben Gannon (72) while carrying the ball as Dakota State University's Riley Janke (5) closes in on Aug. 23 at Joe Quintal Field in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The Dakota Wesleyan University running game might be a three-headed monster, but none of the heads stand very tall.

Starting running back and Canova native Luke Loudenburg is 5-foot-6, 160 pounds, speedster Gaige Marshall is the biggest of the three at 5-foot-11, 195 pounds and bruiser back Chayden Fitzsimmons weighs 175 pounds but is just 5-foot-3. Yet, they have run for 352 yards and four touchdowns through the first two weeks of the season.

"Height's only a number," Fitzsimmons said. "I've obviously been short my whole life. You get used to it and learn how to use your body to go against people who are bigger."

The Tigers (1-1) open Great Plains Athletic Conference play at 1 p.m. Saturday against No. 2 Morningside College (2-0) at Joe Quintal Field.

Despite Loudenburg coming off a 2017 campaign which saw him rush for 993 yards and 11 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry, all three backs have had a chance to showcase their skill set in 2018.

Against Dakota State in the season opener, Loudenburg rushed for 139 yards on 23 carries, though he only saw four carries in Week Two at Presentation. Instead, Fitzsimmons racked up 90 yards on 21 carries, while Marshall, who called his 18 carries a "game-time decision," led the team with 101 yards.

"For us, we have to develop depth," DWU head coach Ross Cimpl said. "Getting those guys game experience, (they) can practice as much as they want, but until they see it and (are) reacting in games, they don't know what it's like."

Both Loudenburg and Cimpl said his lack of playing time wasn't due to injury. In fact, at practice on Wednesday, it was Marshall and Fitzsimmons who were a little banged up. Marshall had a brace on his leg and Fitzsimmons had his hand taped up, though neither expects to miss Saturday's game against Morningside College.

Cimpl didn't commit to either a running back committee or having Loudenburg take the bulk of the carries moving forward, though.

"I think it kind of depends on the game plan. Really for us, when you have multiple guys, you go with who has the hot hand," Cimpl said. "... I don't know if we have a specific plan in terms of reps or numbers, but we feel comfortable with a lot of those guys being able to do that."

He also didn't commit to one back in situations inside the opponents' 20-yard-line, an area DWU succeeded in last week. Loudenburg said DWU worked on its mindset and tried to attack the red zone more after it was stopped inside the 10-yard line twice in Week One.

Being small also has its advantages.

"Just being a smaller back, it's hard to see me back there," Loudenburg said. "Our offensive line does a great job on their down blocks and opening things up, and it doesn't take much for me to find a little gap to get through."

For DWU's rushing success to continue, it comes down to preparation and producing when given the chance.

"(I want to) make the most of my opportunities. Whenever you get the chance, you have to be ready to go," Marshall said. "... We'll play the hot hand, so if a guy's going in and they're killing it, that's who will be in."