STATESBORO - The run was textbook Matt Breida.
The Georgia Southern senior running back has earned that adjective. He's broken off so many long touchdown runs in his career, when he busted loose for 88 yards during last Friday's practice, it was the only word that fit. Textbook. As if there were a science to it.
Breida took a clean handoff from Favian Upshaw on the zone read and found the seam up the middle. An offensive lineman said he heard someone shout, "He gone!" Breida shifted left in the blink of an eye, then looked over his shoulder to make sure nobody was going to catch him. Of course, nobody was.
Upshaw ran all the way to the end zone and jumped in celebration with his back to Breida's as if they were in front of a packed Paulson Stadium on game day. The score really came against the Eagles' second-team defense.
Breida didn't care. It's been too long - a 75-yard touchdown run Nov. 28 against South Alabama - since he's experienced that in a game.
"Eighty-eight out of the gate!" he yelled to his teammates on offense back on the sideline, giving kudos to his offensive line.
His good friend, quarterback Kevin Ellison, joined in on the group.
"You looked a little slow out there," he joked with Breida.
Even if he did, still no one caught the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder.
Of course, that's been the question all preseason. Is Breida 100 percent?
"Yesterday, he had opportunities really on about four of his runs, had we not been in a tag-off period, he would have broken them," GS head coach Tyson Summers said Friday after practice. "He's certainly a lot of fun to watch, and I'm glad he's with us."
Breida had a monster 2015 season, rushing for 1,607 yards - leading the nation at 7.9 yards per carry - and 17 touchdowns, even though he tailed off toward the end of the year, suffering an ankle injury against Georgia State that limited him in that game and in the GoDaddy Bowl. Then he had offseason shoulder surgery, was very limited in the spring, and he's worn a no-contact jersey throughout preseason camp.
"We've tried to be really smart with Matt," Summers said. "Matt's more than proven himself, leading the country two years in a row at yards per carry. Matt's not the type of guy looking to get out of anything. Matt's the opposite. He wants every period he's in to be live tackle. He's not a guy you have to push harder."
For the third straight season, Breida will spearhead arguably the deepest and most talented group of running backs in college football.
"Very anxious," Breida said about coming back from his offseason injuries. "It's my senior season, so I want to have a good season for the team - they deserve it - and I want to go out with a bang."
Backing up Breida is junior L.A. Ramsby, the 210-pound workhorse who bulldozed his way for 816 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2015, and sophomore Wesley Fields (6-0, 195), whose running style so emulates Breida's that he could fool anyone if he wore a No. 36 jersey. As a freshman, Fields finished with 682 yards and seven touchdowns with a 6.8 yards-per-carry average.
It's a special group to be a part of, Ramsby said.
"On a scale of one to 10, it's probably a 10," he said. "We're all just good friends, and we push each other to be better. It really doesn't matter who starts because we're all going to touch the ball. I've never been a part of running back group this close and just didn't care who was in the game."
While Fields may be the guy everyone is wondering how much better he'll be this season, Summers said Ramsby is the one they should pay attention to.
"I'm really excited about L.A.," Summers said. "I was really tough on L.A. all spring. I think anybody around the practice field or the weight room can tell you how tough I was on him. I think he had a great camp. I'm really excited about a guy who's worked his tail off in the offseason, changed his body and mindset, playing with a lot of confidence and toughness. As an individual, he's probably made the greatest strides between spring and now of anybody."
As for Fields, well, he's certainly not a freshman anymore, Ramsby said.
"He's not as shy," Ramsby said. "Last year, he was quiet and laid back, and he let Breida handle things, he'd tell him how to do this or do that. Now, he's become more of a leader. Sometimes he tells us if we did something wrong. That's good because we're all on the same page, and we're making each other better every day."
The firepower might not be limited to those three. Redshirt junior Chaz Thornton has gotten a lot of reps throughout the spring and preseason and has shown both power and speed.
This will be the second and final year with the three core running backs working together, and Breida said he wants to make the most of this season. The last two years, he's witnessed the strides his two counterparts have made and said he feels pretty good about how the running game will look in the future, when he's gone for good.
"They know the offense like the quarterbacks do," Breida said. "Especially, Wesley coming off his freshman year when he did big things. I expect big things out of both of them this year and next year, too."
ON THE WEB
Nathan Deen writes about the Georgia Southern football team's depth chart, released Monday, in his blog "Eagle Extra" at savannahnow.com/sports.