Wofford’s Hidden Jewel
By Southern Pigskin Staff
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Wofford's sensational fullback Eric Breitenstein has put up Playstation numbers. Is he the best player in the country few have heard of?
Wofford fullback Eric Breitenstein has had a pretty good two year stretch in Spartanburg. In his last 22 games, he has 2,803 yards, has averaged six yards a carry and has scored 37 times.
But, it was his first two years on campus in Spartanburg, when he played in just 12 games, were crucial to the success he is having on the field now.
“When I first came in, I was playing behind All-American Dane Romero and he was a great guy, really showed me the ropes, taught me a lot of what I know and helped me understand the offense,” Breitenstein said. “Basically, I was coming in and spelling him my first year … You always want to be the guy and the only one with the ball and everything and, of course, I wanted that, just like everyone else. But I learned a lot that year and it was really good for me. And then, my second year, I had the injury. I started two games, tore my ACL and I was done for the season. That was a learning experience. I got to sit back and watch and learn and get in watching film and see what everyone else was doing right and learn from them.”
Romero proved to be an excellent teacher for the record-breaking redshirt junior. In 2008, Breitenstein’s first year with the team, Romero rushed for 1,078 and a school-record 23 touchdowns. Eric was set to take over the starting job the following year, but his ACL injury in a victory over Charleston Southern cost him the season – a common theme in 2009 as the Terriers dealt with injury after injury. It is no coincidence, though, Breitenstein’s return also coincided with Wofford’s rise back to the top of the SoCon last year.
2010 was a banner year for Breitenstein, as he earned All-Conference and All-American honors while setting a new school record for rushing yards in a season (1,639 yards) and coming within one touchdown of tying his former mentor for the single-season touchdown record. But then, it all came crashing down in the NCAA Quarterfinals, when the Georgia Southern Eagles came to town and beat the Terriers 23-20 – a loss that continues to haunt Breitenstein and the rest of the Terriers.
“Last year was obviously a great year, but it ended with a bitter end,” Breitenstein said. “We played Georgia Southern here and I thought we were the better team, but we turned the ball over a lot and just didn’t get it done. We gave ourselves a chance to win at the end, but (it wasn’t enough). So we ended last year on a sour note and (now) same team, same stadium this coming Saturday and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Revenge is the name of the game on Saturday as the Terriers look to become the first team in the series to win a home game since 2005. And Breitenstein will have a new factor on his side – a monkey on his back that he cannot wait to get rid of.
“(Last year’s game) is absolutely, definitely on our minds,” he said. “We feel like we didn’t play well last year. I think that was obvious if anybody watched the game. But Georgia Southern played a pretty good game, good enough to win, and then the next week, they did the same thing we did – just a poor performance and when you lose like to end your season, it really eats at you. And we’ve had a whole year of it eating at us. It’s time to finish unfinished business.”
The fullback knows the victory will be far from easy though. After all, this is Georgia Southern we are talking about. The program with an unprecedented six national titles and eight Southern Conference titles. Their coach, Jeff Monken, compared GSU-Wofford to LSU-Alabama and Clemson-Georgia Tech – they are not traditional rivals, but when they play, there almost always seems to be something big on the line. This Saturday, it is the 2011 Southern Conference championship. If the Eagles win a second-straight game at Spartanburg, they earn the title Southern Conference champs. The Terriers need victories against Georgia Southern and Chattanooga to claim the title.
“They are absolutely full of athletes and as physical as can be,” Breitenstein said. “Last year, those (games) were the most physical games we played. I expect it to be that way again this year. They got a great defense that just flies to the ball, everybody chasing the ball. And on offense, they have a high-powered rushing offense. Our defense has to step up and play real well to be able to stop them.
“We’ve seen the same look that they give us – the 4-3 look – that we are expecting from them. But, like I said, they are just full of athletes. We’ve played athletes, everybody in our conference has some really good athletes, but Georgia Southern across the board is pretty athletic and they do a great job. They have a great scheme. I think they keep it simple enough to where they can just read, react and get to the ball. It’s worked for them so far. We’ll see what we can do against them this Saturday.”
The game Saturday is scheduled for an early kickoff – 1 p.m. – which is good, since neither side can wait to take the field. With all that is on the line, you wouldn’t be surprised if players called this the biggest regular season game of their careers. Yet Breitenstein doesn’t see it that way. In fact, he sees it with more of a ‘We’ve been here’ before mentality.
“We had the win last year to clinch,” he said. “That was part of a SoCon championship. I don’t think necessarily that this is the biggest game. It is definitely a big game, (like) anytime you are playing for a conference championship. We feel like we’ve been playing for a conference championship every game. When we lost our game against Furman, we put ourselves back, and every week after that, we’ve just been fighting. And even if we win this one, it’s not over yet. We have to fight. It’s a big game, but not any bigger than the rest of them. “