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Returning Player Refresher: Charles McClelland

McClelland was a threat to produce a big play every time he touched the ball last season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Navy at Cincinnati Photo by Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Even though they featured one of the premier running backs in the entire country last season, there was still plenty of rushing work to go around for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Michael Warren may have received most of the chances but even he needed a breather from time to time. One of the players who benefited the most from those opportunities was Charles McClelland.

Considering the fact that he was a true freshman, the former three-star prospect was thrown right into the deep end without much preamble. With 2017’s leading rusher Gerrid Doaks sidelined for the entire season, the Bearcats needed depth at running back and they found it in McClelland and fellow rookie Tavion Thomas.

McClelland really broke onto the scene in week three last year. After receiving zero rushing opportunities in the first two weeks against UCLA and Miami-Ohio, he erupted for 121 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries against Alabama A&M. Obviously the level of competition in that game was not in the upper echelon considering the Bearcats won 63-7 and McClelland was brought in to finish things off after the team got out to a big lead. However, McClelland still impressed with his ability to find open space, break big plays and run for days after that game. He ended up reaching at least 70 yards three more times last year despite never receiving double-digit carries after week three. That included a showing in the regular season finale against East Carolina when he amassed 114 yards on only eight attempts in a game that Warren missed.

Not since the 2015 season has a UC running back displayed such skill at escaping for long runs, as McClelland averaged 7.7 yards per carry, besting the mark Mike Boone produced in 2015 when he averaged 7.2. Because he was able to pack so much production into every one of his attempts, McClelland ended up with 485 total rushing yards on 63 carries, while finding the end zone on the ground four times. He was still the fourth-leading rusher on the team, but that has more to do with the facts that the Bearcats had multiple rushing options and McClelland was still used in a limited role despite his star potential.

If you’ll pardon the pun, McClelland’s skills carry beyond rushing the ball. He also displayed solid hands as a receiver, with nine receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Luke Fickell and offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock really started to utilize him more on pass plays in the last couple games, as he combined for four catches for 77 yards against East Carolina and Virginia Tech. In addition to his work as a receiver, McClelland was also one of the team’s primary kick returners. It was a logical decision considering his elusive running style and exceptional speed. He returned seven kicks for an average of 12 yards per return.

Whether or not you would classify 2018 as a breakout year for McClelland, its clear that he has a bright future with the program. He will still have to wait his turn to become the feature back, especially with Gerrid Doaks getting work again and Thomas also competing for opportunities behind Warren. However, McClelland has already shown that he can do a lot with a little.