Confident Dwayne Priest ready to move into lead tailback role for Eastern Michigan
Dwayne Priest's first trip into Michigan Stadium was plagued by a serious case of the butterflies.
Then only a freshman, the Eastern Michigan tailback got caught up in the Big House's trappings, keeping him from feeling comfortable as he tried to find room to run against the Wolverines.
On Saturday, Priest was determined to ignore his surroundings and instead, do what he knew he was capable of.
And that's just playing football.
"Coming back in here, I felt like I knew what (playing at Michigan Stadium) is about," said Priest, who finished with 91 yards on 27 carries. "I felt like I am a veteran player, and so I'm going to play like a veteran player."
And for much of the first half, Priest found holes in the Michigan defense, breaking into the open and helping the Eagles establish the run. His effort was a big reason Eastern was able to remain within a touchdown of the Wolverines before Michigan broke away in the second half in a 45-17 victory.
Priest broke tackles, he slipped past defenders and ran with confidence - all while allowing Eastern Michigan's offense to put other aspects of its game plan on display. And until a deep deficit forced the Eagles to throw, Priest's contributions gave the Eagles a chance.
"I really felt there was a period there when we could really move the ball," Eastern Michigan coach Ron English said. "We really thought that we could run the ball."
After allowing Army and Northwestern to jump out to big leads, the Eagles used the running game to go into the half trailing 24-17 after Priest scored on a 5-yard run with 2:05 remaining in the first half.
And a team that entered the game a three-touchdown underdog found itself feeling it could play with anyone.
"We expect to win - we really do. I know people think that's hard to believe," English said. "But we expect to win the game so the mood was, we need to do what it takes to win the game."
No one believed that more that Priest, who accounted for more than half of Eastern Michigan's 179 rushing yards. The more he found room the run, the more he felt he was becoming the running back the Eagles need.
After Eastern Michigan began the season with a running back by committee approach, the Eagles enter the Mid-American Conference portion of their season improving, but still winless. But after back-to-back solid performances from Priest, the veteran tailback believes he is ready to help Eastern take the next step forward.
"I feel like everything is coming together," Priest said. "I've got a confidence level that I've just got to play my game and step my game and just play. I just feel like if my (offensive) line goes out there and plays, I feel like I can go out there and do that on every team we play."
Jeff Arnold covers sports for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at 734-623-2554 or firstname.lastname@example.org