Eric Breitenstein just wanted a college scholarship and a chance to keep playing football. He never dreamed he would build a legacy. Eric Breitenstein,
who rushed for 1,474 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2011, is 1,434 yards away from becoming Wofford's all-time leading rusher.
“I'd be lying if I said I hadn't seen the numbers,” Breitenstein said. “People come up and tell me. ... You can't be thinking about numbers and stats. You just try to win games.”
But headed into his senior season at Wofford, he is leaving quite a mark on a program that has been in existence since 1889. Breitenstein, an All-American running back and Southern Conference player of the year, has put up monster numbers during the past two seasons. In 2010, he ran for a school-record 1,639 yards and 22 touchdowns. Last year, he finished with 1,474 and 19.
Those campaigns have put him within reach of what always seemed an unbreakable record of 5,128 career rushing yards from 1989-92 by former Wofford quarterback Shawn Graves, a Hall of Famer who is one of only two players to have their numbers retired by the school. The other is Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, who put up big numbers as a wide receiver and later as a donor.
Graves played in the Division II era of Wofford football and was an incredible talent, especially for the level at which the Terriers competed. Kevious Johnson, who played in the mid-2000s and is now an assistant coach at Spartanburg High School, had widely been considered the Terriers' best runner in the Division I era and he finished nearly 1,300 yards behind Graves.
Breitenstein is only 156 yards behind Johnson for second on the all-time list and actually within reach of Graves, needing 1,434 yards to set the program record and rightfully earn a monument for the No. 7 jersey next to the No. 1 of Graves and the No. 51 of Richardson on the scoreboard-side hill overlooking the north end zone of Gibbs Stadium.
“I'd be lying if I said I hadn't seen the numbers,” Breitenstein said. “People come up and tell me. Every now and again, I'll read an article and it will have stuff in there. But you just go out and play football. You can't be thinking about numbers and stats. You just try to win games. I'm trying to help us win.
Despite rushing for more than 6,000 yards at Watauga High School, including nearly 2,500 and 30 touchdowns as a senior, the Valle Crucis, N.C., native was not heavily recruited. Breitenstein (5-foot-11, 230 pounds) was offered scholarships by only Wofford and Air Force. Most schools in the Carolinas, including Appalachian State, only eight miles from his home, invited Breitenstein to walk on.
“I'd rather somebody else pay for my schooling,” he said.
With very little competition, Wofford ended up with what would be one of the best players in school history.
“Wofford stayed loyal to me,” Breitenstein said. “They were the first ones to offer me a scholarship in my junior year. They stayed loyal to me throughout the whole process.
Really, that meant a lot to me. So I made the decision to be a Wofford Terrier. It was the best decision of my life.”
Breitenstein has led the Southern Conference in rushing and touchdowns for the past two seasons. He is the only player in Wofford history to reach eight 100-yard games in two different seasons. He has 46 career rushing touchdowns, still 26 behind Graves, but the 22 in 2010 was only two short of Graves in 1989 and one behind Dane Romero in 2008.
“You can look at the stats and see that Eric is an unbelievable player,” Wofford head coach Mike Ayers said. “The greatest thing about him is that he's exactly what you want in a player. He comes to work every day. He's either doing his thing or he's helping somebody else. He does everything 100 percent.
He's a campus leader. He's an excellent student. The other guys respect him so much.
He's a guy who is making a difference.”
Having Breitenstein with him in the backfield is making the transition smoother for first-year starting quarterback Brian Kass.
“There is so much comfort with him,” Kass said. “He's a coach on the field. He can tell me things I don't see. I sit in meetings and when we come out, he tells me things I didn't see. He's got that mindset. It helps me tremendously.”
Breitenstein thanks the Wofford offensive linemen after games by giving them candy bars. But he might have some coming his way this season. He is regarded as one of the best blockers on the team and coaches are going to have a new way to verify that claim.
“We're going to start a knockdown board for running backs and receivers,” Ayers said. “I just want to see how many he's going to end up with. He does a phenomenal job when he doesn't have the ball in his hands. He's probably the best blocker we've got.”
Breitenstein would already be finished with his Wofford career if not for an injury as a sophomore in 2009. In the second game of that season against Charleston Southern, he had two touchdowns and 66 yards in the first quarter before hurting a knee. He was granted a medical redshirt and, by no coincidence, it was the first losing season since 2001 and the only time in the past five years that the Terriers missed the playoffs.
“There are days when I wake up and it feels like I've been here a long time,” Breitenstein said. “But, honestly, four and a half years has flown by. It's incredible. Sometimes it feels like yesterday when I came here. I know it will all be over in a blink of an eye.”
Photo Courtesy: Eric Breitenstein, Wofford College Athletics