Things have recently heated up for Thomas Rawls, but before he was a hot name in the Michigan circles he was a middling three-star recruit out of Flint, Michigan. Being a power back in Ann Arbor's back yard usually means the Wolverines will come knocking at your door, yet the beginning of the process didn't go as planned. Despite the fact that Rawls' head coach was Fred Jackson's son the Wolverines weren't too interested, mostly due to their current style of offense. Then in the middle of his senior year of high school Rich Rodriguez was let go, and in walked a man who swore to bring back the glory days of power football. Brady Hoke wasn't about to pass up the next Mark Ingram, was he?
The ability was there and many wondered why he was rated as such an average back. The answer? Grades. Rawls' academic struggles weren't overly documented but they were still there, and because of them many teams were weary of offering. Late in the process Rawls received word that he would indeed qualify and receive that coveted offer from Brady Hoke and Michigan. He would accept shortly after receiving the offer, leaving offers from Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Toledo on the table.
Why he was called the next Mark Ingram wasn't too hard to see. During his time in Flint Rawls topped Ingram's previously unbeatable single-game record of 377 yards, and probably would have set the state record for rushing yards in a season had he not been injured.
Scouts constantly compared him to the former Alabama star because of his tendency to square up and give punishment instead of taking it, and although he isn't as likely to shake you in the open field he still has burst that's comparable to Ingram's. He even looks like Ingram when he runs, and thanks to the Fred Jacksons Rawls' bar was already set at a Heisman winner's level before he even stepped onto the turf at Michigan Stadium.
After a year spent seeing garbage carries and acclimating himself to the college life he created some buzz as the second running back on the depth chart. The coaches and even the defenders talked about his ability to plow through tacklers. Then he actually stepped into Michigan Stadium.
He didn't disappoint, showing a level of power that his fellow Michigan backs don't bring. The Mark Ingram prophecy wasn't fulfilled but lived to see another day.
Rawls' stock has been up lately. Way up. He has a golden opportunity to show Crimson Tide fans just why he's capable of playing on Ingram's level with starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint almost certainly out of the picture for the opener due to a poor life decision. Many expect Toussaint to be gone for around three games, meaning that it's show time for the Flint native for at least that amount of time.
This might not be that bad of news for Michigan fans, especially considering how powerful Alabama's front will be. Toussaint isn't a pushover by any means but he hasn't ever been a power back, instead relying on his agility and balance to beat defenders. Rawls' power could be better suited to take on Alabama's front. Could be.
After the Alabama game things become foggy. Even if Toussaint is brought back in time for the Notre Dame game he probably won't get his full workload back, giving Rawls even more time to show his grit. After that it all depends on how well he performs and whether or not Toussaint keeps his nose clean throughout the remainder of the season. Expect him to see between 100 and 175 carries on the year, assuming Toussaint comes back and plays like his regular self. If Rawls comes out of the gates strong against Alabama he could be rewarded with a season that would set him up nicely for a junior season, giving Michigan two legitimate rushing threats to play beside Devin Gardner in 2013.
If he shows well this year and next he'll have the keys to the backfield for two years, and given Michigan's recent offensive line hauls he should have plenty of room to run. The unique situation he's currently in might just lead to very big things down the road.