This is the third in a series of positional previews for Carroll College, a run of stories that will run through the team's season opener Aug. 31 at Montana Tech.
A few seasons ago, Saints fans could count on the Carroll College rushing attack to be powerful. It was only three years ago Dustin Rinker became the all-time Frontier Conference leader with his 5,379 yards from 2011 to 2014. Rinker’s final season at Carroll, the Saints lead the conference in rushing.
The past two seasons, Carroll hasn’t finished in the Top 5.
The Saints are aiming to fix that.
The Saints return their top rusher, redshirt sophomore Major Ali. The 5-foot-7, 200-pound bowling ball of a runner accounted for 498 yards and two touchdowns last season on 102 carries, a 4.8 yards per carry average. Ali primarily served behind upperclassmen Dylan Green and Ryan Walsh. But when injuries hampered both, he came on and had strong games late in the season. Ali ran for 92 yards on 15 carries against Montana State-Northern and then hit the century mark, running for 113 yards on 21 carries against Montana Western.
Ali showed a knack for picking up tough yardage between the tackles and a nice elusiveness when he had space.
"Major is more confident in what he is doing," Saints coach Mike Van Diest said. "He is a great young man. He comes to play every day, whether he is in the weight room or on the practice field. He comes with a smile on his face, and it is fun to watch him out there. I think he can have a very special season."
As the top rusher from a season ago, Ali may not even be the most used weapon this year with Walsh returning for his senior campaign. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior from Wilsonville, Oregon, got the ball in a variety of ways last season -- prior to an injury that limited him. Walsh was a capable running inside and outside the tackles, and was perhaps at his best when the Saints went to him in the passing game out of the backfield. Even slogging through 10 games, Walsh had 60 carries carries for 245 yards and also caught 23 passes for 236 yards. He scored two rushing touchdowns.
While both will be used, the depth behind them remains up in the air, though Ryan Arntson could be a big part of the offense this season as a true freshman. Arntson ripped off off an 80-yard touchdown in the Saints’ only scrimmage of the fall, and finished with 99 yards rushing. His play made the biggest headline from the scrimmage, and the former Bengal is coming off a high school career in which he racked up 4,446 all-purpose yards and 42 total touchdowns. While it’s hard for a true freshman to see the field for the Saints, Arntson appears to be the special kind of player that breaks the pattern.
Henry Hill, a junior out of Glenwood Springs, Colorado, received a few snap last season and figures to mix again this year, as well.
Redshirt freshman Kyle Harrington of Butte and true frosh Wesley Harshbarger of Twin Bridges are competing for roster spots, but with some established runners ahead of them, breaking into the backfield this season could be tough.
With three offensive line starters back from a season ago, and the Saints confident in their depth, this could be the season Carroll College returns back to its power rushing ways.