By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
Last season an unknown running back from Sam Houston State University transferred to ACU in hopes of becoming a starter, then proceeded to break the school’s single-season rushing record. He had attention and gave fans something to look forward to watching on Saturday afternoons.
Now, senior tailback Eric Polk is struggling to find the same groove that put him in the record books a year ago.
The Baytown native carried the ball a school-record 257 times for 1,211 yards in 2001. That tally put him slightly ahead of Kelly Kent, who had 1,184 yards for ACU in the 1977 season. Polk averaged 121.1 yards a game and 4.7 per carry last year, scampered for 12 touchdowns and had seven 100-yard rushing games. He was even a finalist for the Harlon Hill Trophy, an award that goes out to the top running back in Division II collegiate football.
“Eric’s been a fixture in our running game for a year,” Coach Gary Gaines said. “We certainly would like him to duplicate what he did a year ago.”
But so far, he’s had trouble doing that. In the Wild-cats’ first three games, Polk has carried the ball 54 times for 226 yards and one score. He has had just one 100-yard game (129 in the Sept. 7 opener against Central Arkansas), but followed that up with 89 at California-Davis on Sept. 7 and eight at Tarleton State on Saturday.
Granted, those three opponents are all top ten teams in Division II football.
“That’s part of it,” Gaines said of Polk’s slippage. “We’ve played three ranked teams that all had pretty tough defenses, and our offense in general had trouble against them. It’s not just Eric.”
Polk entered the 2001 season as a low-profile back, but his success has earned him a lot more exposure and attention from opposing teams.
“Big games will be harder (for Polk) to come by just because everyone knows who he is this year,” Gaines said. “Last year no one knew who he was, so it makes it tough for him and the linemen to help duplicate those numbers.”
To make things even harder on Polk, he went down in the late second quarter against Tarleton State with a bruised collarbone. However, he still has a week to recuperate as ACU has its bye week this Saturday. Gaines said he expects Polk to be ready to go against LSC South opponent Eastern New Mexico on Saturday, Oct. 5, and for him to find his groove anytime.
“That’s our hope,” Gaines said. “We want him to be able to get back on track. It’s not just him, but he’s certainly capable. We know that.”