BGSU running back Josh Cleveland is tackled by defensive back Fred Garth during the spring scrimmage. BLADE/LORI KING
It is hard to imagine two teammates who are more different than Bowling Green State University running backs Donovan Wilson and Josh Cleveland.
Wilson stands 6-0 and is 225 pounds of sculpted muscle. Cleveland is listed at 5-8, which he may be on a tall day, and weighs 179 pounds soaking wet.
But the two seniors are expected to combine to carry the load for the Falcons run game this season, replacing graduated senior Fred Coppet and his 1,030 yards.
“He helps me a lot because we like to compete — he’s a competitive running back, but so am I,” Cleveland said. “It’s a good competition.
“If I see something I can point it out to him, and he does the same for me.”
Cleveland is Bowling Green’s top returning back, having run for 649 yards and two touchdowns last season.
“He’s explosive because he’s so quick and fast,” Wilson said of Cleveland. “That’s why we complement each other: teams have to come up and hit me, and if they do that to him, he’ll run right by them.”
Wilson was close on Cleveland’s heels, finishing with 503 yards and five TDs a year ago.
“He’s tough and smart,” Cleveland said of Wilson. “He can run you over, and he can run outside.”
Both proved they can carry the load during the Falcons season-ending three-game winning streak.
Wilson, who saw little action early in the year, came alive late by rushing for at least 100 yards in all three contests.
The Georgia Tech transfer ran for 119 yards against Akron, then followed that up with 146 yards against Kent State before finishing with 107 yards in the season finale against Buffalo.
Meanwhile Cleveland battled injuries much of the season before also posting a strong finish. The Texas native, who came to the Falcons from Navarro Junior College in Corsica, Texas, used an 85-yard TD run to gain 131 yards against Kent State before finishing with 109 yards against Buffalo.
While the two running backs have very different styles, both said there were things they learned from watching their teammate carry the ball.
“I learned how to be more patient,” Cleveland said of watching Wilson. “I wait now and let the hole develop.
“I used to try and hit the hole so hard. Watching him be so patient, allowing the hole to open up, is something I try to do now.”
Wilson said he watches Cleveland, “Because I want to see his moves, and there are times I try to emulate those moves as best as I can. But I’m a down-hill runner, so I know there are times I have to stick to my game.”
Senior center Tim McAuliffe said he and the rest of the offensive line enjoy blocking for both backs.
“You have to admire a guy like Donovan, who’s going to put his head down and go through somebody,” McAuliffe said. “And I can’t say enough about his work ethic; when you see him doing the extra work, it’s easy to push yourself to do the extra thing for him.
“For Josh, you love when he hits a ‘home run’ on a play, because a one-play drive is a lineman’s dream. You do one thing right and the team scores — and sometimes you don’t even have to do it right, because he just breaks it and makes it look right.”
And because both backs run with very different styles, the bruising Wilson and the speedy Cleveland have given themselves a nickname.
“We’re like thunder and lightning — you never know where we’re going to hit,” Cleveland said.