The Analyst debuts a regular FCS series called “By the Numbers,” which analyzes data to help tell the story of FCS college football.
No statistic may sum up FCS college football more than all-purpose yardage.
These are the guys who know they’re probably not big enough or shifty enough to be the primary back in the NFL one day, or tall enough and fast enough to be the featured receiver. But what they are good at is being an unselfish four-tool player who is a scary threat in a multitude of ways.
That’s what sums up New Hampshire senior Dylan Laube, who led the FCS last year with 2,328 all-purpose yards and a 194 per-game average. He was a running back, a punt returner, a kickoff returner and a scary receiving threat coming out of the offensive backfield.
No matter what the Wildcats needed from him, Laube was willing to provide it, and that helped translate to a 9-4 season and a second-round appearance in the FCS playoffs. This past weekend against Stonehill, Laube picked right up where he left off in 2022, rushing for 89 yards and a touchdown, catching two passes for 31 yards and a score, returning a punt 58 yards for a TD, and returning two kickoffs for 51 yards.
Pick your poison, opponents. That’s 229 yards for those scoring at home about the FedEx Ground FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week.
The season-opening performance isn’t even close to Laube’s career best. Go back to last season, and he piled up 424 all-purpose yards against Fordham to set an FCS playoff record.
Laube and Monmouth’s Jaden Shirden, who both wear a No. 20 jersey, represent a movement that has happened within the Coastal Athletic Association (formerly the Colonial Athletic Association) for years. Shirden finished No. 6 nationally in all-purpose yards per game, just behind two of the other top producers who are back this year – Mercer’s Devron Harper (fourth) and ShunDerrick Powell (fifth), who is now at Central Arkansas after playing at North Alabama previously.
Traditionally, CAA Football has produced some of the best slicers and dicers the FCS has known.
Villanova’s Brian Westbrook (1997-2001) is a well-known name and the all-time record holder in the career and single season categories for all-purpose yardage. Westbrook really did do everything at ‘Nova, totaling 4,298 rushing yards, an eye-popping 2,582 receiving yards, and 2,632 punt and kickoff return yards. However, the NCAA doesn’t include postseason games in seasonal and career statistics prior to 2003, so his career total is short about 450 all-purpose yards.
In all, the NCAA recognized Westbrook with 9,512 all-purpose yards before he went on to a nine-year NFL career mostly with the Philadelphia Eagles, making two Pro Bowls and finishing his pro career with more than 10,000 career yards from scrimmage. He was a third-round draft pick, more because of his ability to contribute multiple ways than any other reason.
New Hampshire’s Jerry Azumah is No. 2 all-time in the FCS and he also was drafted, taken in the fifth round by the Chicago Bears and switched from offense to defense and became a primary return specialist. Also, William & Mary product Jonathan Grimes also was high up in the charts at No. 4, and he played in the NFL for five seasons.
Again, there’s something about the CAA and the FCS that produces the great Swiss Army Knives wearing helmets and pads. Rounding out the top FCS’ five all-time are South Dakota State’s Zach Zenner (No. 3) and Colgate’s Kenny Gamble (No. 5), and they both also spent time in the NFL.
Unselfishness is a trait in many players at the FCS level, and unselfishness is needed. The FCS has fewer scholarships than the FBS, and as noted above, the NFL can only have 53 active players on the field at any given time. While we do live in a more specialized world of football than our grandfathers did, a coach still loves a guy who doesn’t mind what he’s being asked to do – and FCS products know that in this world of “one strike and you’re out,” you have to prove yourself in more than one way.
That’s the definition of all-purpose.