Personal rush to judgment

Towson: Noah Read once thought himself too small to play football. Now at 5 feet 9, 177 pounds, he has grown into a career 2,000-yard rusher in college.

College Football

September 25, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

Towson University tailback Noah Read likes to find the hole, hit it fast and hard and get what yards he can. As junior guard Jason Gunning puts it: "Noah isn't the dancing type."

That's not to say, though, that Read can't also turn a corner.

A case in point came Sept. 8, in the Tigers' lone win of the season, against visiting Lafayette, when Read understandably wasn't sure exactly how much he'd be able to contribute.

Just four days before, his father, Byron, had a successful kidney transplant in Philadelphia. The younger Read spent the entire week going back and forth to visit, and then spent that Saturday afternoon going just one direction against the Lafayette defense: forward.

Read, a 5-foot-9, 177-pound senior, ended up carrying the ball 38 times for 218 yards - both career highs - and his second touchdown of the day from 6 yards out in overtime was the difference in a 16-13 victory. In the process, the two-year starter from Fort Hill High School in Cumberland became the fourth Towson rusher to surpass 2,000 yards for a career.

The best part?

"They got my dad a radio so he could listen to the game in the hospital," said Read, who was named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week for the effort. "So right when I got home I called him and he was like, `Wow, that was great. It made me feel a lot better and really took my mind off the pain.' That made me feel really good."

Good, and also tired.

With Read missing most of the practices the week going in, Towson coach Gordy Combs planned on limiting his standout running back's role. But with backup Ray Harris injured early and the passing game ineffective, Read got the ball - again and again and again - to bring the Tigers back from a 10-0 deficit for a win in their Patriot League opener.

"I learned that I could push myself a little bit farther than I thought," Read said. "I was tired out there and just wanted to get the game over with. The game was coming to the end, and I didn't know if I'd be able to make it through overtime if we got to that point. Then we tied it up and got into overtime and I was like, `OK, I've got to find a couple more plays in me.' "

Four to be exact.

After Lafayette kicked a field goal on its overtime possession that started on Towson's 25-yard line, the Tigers got their chance at the 25. Their four-play drive: Read for 4 yards; Read for 13 yards and a first down; Read for 2 yards; and, finally, Read busting through the left side for the final 6 yards and the score.

"We knew with him missing a couple of practices, it was going to be tough for him," Gunning said. "He came in and was like, `I love my dad, and we've got to win this game.' The O-line told each other we were going to do whatever we could for him. It was a big game for us, and he showed up."

Byron Read, 53, had a hereditary kidney disease and was placed on a waiting list for a donor in early June. Instead of continuing the expected long wait, his wife, Brenda, Noah's stepmother, volunteered one of her kidneys. Noah said his father is doing well and is expected to be back home in Cumberland soon.

The younger Read, who has 386 yards this season after the Tigers (1-2) lost to Holy Cross, 17-9, on Saturday, used football, which his father encouraged him to first play in the eighth grade, as a diversion in the trying time.

"I never really wanted to play, because I always thought I was too small," Read said. "He just said, `Hey, why don't you try it out?' I did and I liked it. He's always trying to push me further, encouraging me to always do better and keeping my confidence up. Even with what he's going through now, he's always been trying to keep my head straight on football and everything else."

Read spent two seasons behind former Tigers standout Jason Corle before enjoying a 1,422-yard junior season. As for Read's size, Combs simply says: "Don't judge a book by its cover."

"Noah's just a tough nut, a throwback. He's the type of guy that he's going to worry about being tired only after the fact. He's so explosive, he never stops, and because of his quickness, people never really get a good lick on him."

Read uses his size, or lack of it, to his advantage in a Towson offense that's centered on the tailback. He's fast to hit the hole, and defenders have the difficult task of finding him behind the Tigers' offensive line. If and when they do, senior fullback Gene Liebel says beware.

"It's crazy how Noah runs for how small he is. He just barrels over people. He rarely takes a hit, and, really, he does the punishing," Liebel said.

During the summer before Read's junior year, former Tigers standout Tony Vinson, who ran for 3,058 yards in two seasons at Towson in the early '90s, was around to offer some pointers. One in particular stayed with Read.

"The one thing he said that I always remember is right before a defender is about to make a tackle, he closes his eyes," Read said. "So he said right before you make contact, try to shift your shoulders a little bit, and they'll slide right off you. When they hit you - instead of taking the clean shot - they think they've got you, but you're a couple yards past them after that."

The Tigers will be counting on those extra yards. And if 38 carries is what it takes, that's just fine with Read.

"It's good that they know I can get the job done," he said. "I'll take the ball that many times every game if that's what we need to do to win."

2,000 club

Towson University's career 2,000-yards plus rushers:

Name Yrs Att Yds TD

Jason Corle '96-99 781 3,601 33

Tony Vinson '92-93 484 3,058 29

Brian McCarty '91-94 479 2,594 32

Noah Read * '98- 464 2,086 18

*- Read currently ranks 19th among all-time Patriot League rushers.

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