This story ran on Georgia Southern’s website:
There’s so much more to Matt Breida than football statistics. The Georgia Southern sophomore running back is an interesting character — a talented but humble young man who eats Chinese spare ribs and joins his offensive line for Bible study during the week.
But, those numbers he has put this fall, though…
- Breida has rushed 152 times for 1,434 yards and 16 touchdowns, helping the Eagles to an 8-3 record (7-0 in the Sun Belt Conference) entering the Nov. 29 regular season finale against Louisiana-Monroe. Only three FBS players – Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (1,909 yards), Indiana’s Tevin Coleman (1,678) and Pittsburgh’s James Conner (1,562) – have rushed for more yards this season. Those three players, however, have significantly more rushing attempts than Breida does.
- Breida, a speedster, is averaging 9.43 yards per carry, the highest average by any player in college football. To put into perspective, consider that the Atlantic Coast Conference, just for example, has been around for 62 years, and just one player from that league has ever produced a higher average. That was Maryland’s Chet Hanulak in 1953.
- Even closer to home, University of Georgia true freshman Nick Chubb, a fantastic Bulldog running back with a bright future, has the same number of rushing attempts this season as Breida (152). Yet Breida has rushed for 405 more yards than Chubb.
No one – not even Breida himself – could have seen this coming.
“He has surprised a lot of people,” Eagle guard Darien Foreman said. “I think he even surprised himself.”
Last season as a freshman Breida had just one rushing attempt for the entire season. He worked hard, was a solid contributor on special teams, but the spotlight belonged Jerick McKinnon, who now plays on Sundays for the Minnesota Vikings.
If there were an award for Most Improved Player on the Planet, Breida would be the leading candidate.
“I didn’t expect to play at all last season,” Breida said. “I wanted to contribute on special teams. I wanted to learn, and I wanted to adjust to the speed of the game.”
It’s the speed of Breida’s game that is making a difference for Georgia Southern. The Brooksville (Fla.) native has emerged into one of college football’s top big-play threats.
Breida has eight rushing attempts of 50 yards or longer this season. No other FBS player has more. He has 16 rushing attempts of 20 or more yards. Only Wisconsin’s Gordon, a Heisman Trophy candidate, has more.
“When he first came in as a freshman (during pre-season conditioning workouts) you could see how fast he was,” Foreman said. “I mean, he looked very fast.
“I have never played with a running back that fast. I think he’s even faster than Jerick (McKinnon). We gave him a nickname: The Cheetah. I have yet to see anyone catch him.”
The college football world is beginning to take notice. Earlier this season he was named to the list for the Doak Walker Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top running back.
Doak Walker was an All-American running back at SMU and went into the pro football Hall of Fame in 1986. He was one of the most accomplished college football players ever. It’s doubtful, however, Walker was ever timed at 3.9 in the 40 as Breida has.
“I am just honored (to be on the list),” Breida said. “I definitely didn’t think it was a possibility before this season started. I’m thankful for my teammates for putting me in this position.”
Breida’s relationship with his teammates, in particular the offensive line, is special.
“We hang out off the field,” Breida said. “For example, some of us will go over to (starting center) Manrey Saint-Amour’s house for Bible study.”
The offensive line, Foreman said, takes special pride in the numbers Breida has put up this season.
“Our offensive line coach (Alex Atkins) is big on establishing the run,” Foreman said. “If we don’t rush for 400 yards (as a team), we’re kind of disappointed.”
The line has turned Breida’s ridiculous rushing numbers into a game of sorts.
“We talk a lot about how many yards he wants to rush for this week,” Foreman said. “We joke around about it. We’ve been telling him lately he needs to break Gordon’s record.”
Foreman was referring to the above mentioned Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin, who recently ran for an NCAA record 408 yards against Nebraska.
Breida, though smaller than the Badger running back, sees some similarities between his game and that of Gordon.
“I feel like I do have some physicality to me,” he said. “I run a lot harder than you might think for someone my height (5-10) and weight (190). But Gordon… he’s something else.”
What’s the opposite of ‘sophomore slump’? Whatever the answer, that’s the season Breida is enjoying this fall. In fact, he seems to be getting stronger and more productive as the season progresses.
He has seven 100-yard rushing games this season. Over the last five games he has averaged 151.6 yards per game, including a 210-yard, two-touchdown performance in Southern’s last outing, a 52-19 loss at Navy.
While Breida and his teammates are focused on closing out the 2014 on a positive note next Saturday, the future for him and the Eagles appears very bright.
Next season Southern will be a full-fledged member of the FBS. The transitional or re-classifying stage, will finally be over. Conference championships and bowl games, GSU faithful hope, are on the horizon.
Breida wants to be a part of that team success, but he’s also allowed himself to think about what he wants to accomplish individually.
“I would like to compete down the same path (as this season),” he said. “I’d like to rush for over 1,000 yards, bring the school some Sun Belt championships and leave a good legacy.”
Breida also has his sights set on playing in the NFL one day – “That’s always been a dream of mine,” he said – but it’s not a topic that dominates his conversations.
“Matt is really just a laid-back guy who tries to make everyone laugh,” Foreman said. “Off the field, he is really a funny guy.”
On the field, however, Breida is no joke.