CLEMSON — With a shrug and a smile, Wayne Gallman confirmed this week with three simple words he’s content with the decision he made two days after Clemson’s loss to Alabama in the national championship game.
“Yeah, I’m back,” said Gallman.
Three days after tailbacks hit the turf in Indianapolis during the NFL Scouting Combine, there was Gallman, back in a college uniform, setting goals for himself as Clemson begin spring football practice.
Gallman, who set Clemson’s single-season rushing record over 15 games in 2015 with 283 carries, 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns, ranks 12th on the Tigers’ career rushing list with 2,296 yards. He led Clemson in 2014 with 769 yards as a part-time starter.
Now Gallman has his eye on Raymond Priester, whose 3,966 rushing yards from 1994-97 set the standard at Clemson. Gallman needs 1,671 yards to assume the mantle. If Gallman, on track to graduate in December, has only one more year at Clemson, that would be lofty but not unreachable.
“All-time (rushing) leader, maybe,” said Gallman of his 2016 objectives. “Just help the offense get back to the national championship, have another good season.”
At least Gallman has been efficient with his touches. Of the top 15 rushers in school history, his 444 carries are the lowest total, and Gallman’s 5.17 yards per attempts rank fourth on that list, trailing former greats C.J. Spiller (5.85 yards per carry), Andre Ellington (5.53) and Terry Allen (5.31.)
This year’s NFL draft class of running backs is not particularly flashy. After Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Alabama’s Derrick Henry, few names move the needle. Next year’s class figures to be far more star-studded, with potential entrants Leonard Fournette of LSU, Dalvin Cook of Florida State, Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, Nick Chubb of Georgia, Samaje Perine of Oklahoma and James Conner of Pittsburgh (among others) possibly competing with Gallman for draft status.
Throw in the widely accepted notion running backs have the smallest window of NFL opportunity among all positions — therefore coaxing young runners to cash in while they can — and it was considered a surprise Gallman decided to return. His Jan. 13 tweet “one more year won’t be so bad ...” was shared nearly 2,300 times on Twitter.
“That’s always going to be a hard decision, whether to leave college and have to come back to get your degree. There’s money there, there’s a job,” Gallman said Monday. “But it wasn’t so hard after I made the decision, because I was happy with it. For me, it’s about the love of playing football. It’s not all about money.”
Gallman, who will be a redshirt junior in the fall, and senior tight end Jordan Leggett both put off the pros, giving Clemson a well-stocked cupboard of skill players.
“To be honest, I would have been surprised if they’d left,” said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “Both those guys have a chance to be great pros, but they both know they need another year to maximize their game for the next level. I was very pleased they chose to come back.”
Did the chance to play one more year with Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson have something to do with those decisions?
“You’d like to think that it didn’t,” Scott said. “But the fact all those guys came back, we have a chance to have an all-star cast. I’m sure that didn’t hurt.”