Originally created 11/04/99

Back at tailback, Carroll finally thrives



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- First Bo Carroll was a running back. Then he was a track star. Then a wide receiver. Now he's a running back again, finally hitting his stride.

After two years of struggle and a serious knee injury, the Florida tailback has moved into the starting lineup.

Last week, he made his first career start against Georgia and ran for 113 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown that broke open the game in the fourth quarter.

"It was kind of a big thing because there was a time when I never thought I would get that opportunity," Carroll said. "I finally got a start, but I still have that mentality that I'm fifth on the depth chart and I have a lot to go out and prove. So I'm going to continue with that attitude."

Given his history, it seems there is no other way to move forward.

Coach Steve Spurrier recruited Carroll because he had world-class sprinter's speed and could pose a threat as a breakaway running back and kick returner.

As a freshman, Carroll saw action in all 11 games, averaging 7.5 yards per carry and leading the team in kickoff returns with a 31.9 yard average and a touchdown.

Competing in track in the offseason, he won the 100-meter title in the Penn Relays.

His star should have been ascending. Instead, it was flaming out.

Because the Gators had questions at wide receiver to begin last season, Carroll asked to be moved to that position so he could get on the field more. The switch never took. He also suffered a knee injury in the middle of the season that kept him out for four games.

By the time he returned, he had lost confidence in himself, as had the coaches. The injury and the position change had combined to make him feel nervous and lost every time he lined up.

"Wideout was never a position where I was comfortable," Carroll said. "It was an experience. I was playing tailback all my life and then it was like catching the ball in the open. I can't say it's something that I was comfortable with."

He came into this season back at his old position, but listed fifth on the depth chart. Spurrier still believed in Carroll's breakaway speed, but had questions about his heart and his ability to carry 20-25 times a game.

Carroll's move back up the depth chart began with a solid training camp and continued in the final preseason scrimmage, when he broke a 70-yard run for a touchdown. Back was the old Carroll, the player whose explosiveness made him one of the top high school recruits in the nation.

Injuries to Earnest Graham and Robert Gillespie allowed Carroll to continue playing and, as of last week, crack the starting lineup.

"Bo is certainly a guy we can go to," Spurrier said. "He's got speed. He's breaking tackles, too. He doesn't go down with just one hand. He was a great key in the victory last week."

Carroll leads the team with 491 yards rushing and a 7.8 per-carry average. The next big question is whether his 5-foot-9, 170-pound frame -- and a psyche bruised by the injury -- can handle the pounding a full-time tailback can take.

"He told me he could carry it 20 to 25 times," Spurrier said. "He might get hurt two or three times, but once we get him off, he'll be back."

Graham, back at full health and now backing up Carroll, says he is impressed at the tenacity Carroll has shown through the last two trying years.

"All I know is he's running a lot harder," Graham said. "He's got it in his mind that he wanted to be somebody on this team who contributed and plays a lot. I guess he got tired of being down there on the depth chart."