And when each had their chance to start, Coppage and Anderson grabbed it with full confidence and kept UW-Whitewater’s running back tradition alive.
“It was definitely satisfying for us to know that we had shoes to fill,” Coppage said, who replaced three-time All-American running back Justin Beaver as the starting running back last season. “To us, we filled them to the best we can.”
Indeed they did, and the two enter Saturday’s home opener against Midland Lutheran at noon as the only pair in UW-Whitewater history to each run for 1,000 yards in a season.
“We’ll just hope we can repeat that this year and have a great season,” Coppage said.
All Coppage did after earning the starting spot during last year’s fall camp in his freshman season was capture first-team all-WIAC honors and landed a spot on D3football.com’s all-West Region first team.
Oh, and he led the conference in rushing with 1,461 yards and also scampered for 20 touchdowns – a mark that is behind only Beaver, who set numerous UW-Whitewater and WIAC records from 2004-2007.
And all Anderson did in his first year of action after not seeing the playing field much in 2007 was rush for 1,213 yards. He also led the conference with 6.6 yards per carry.
From Anderson’s total, 805 came in the postseason after Coppage suffered a high left ankle sprain in the team’s NCAA first round playoff victory over St. John’s (Minn.).
“Nobody expected it,” Anderson said. “But I just had to step up and help wherever I could. It just kind of took off from there.”
But how does the coaching staff plan to use Coppage and Anderson in 2009?
After all, they did most of their damage at different points in the season and were not used interchangeably like most anticipate this year.
“We’re definitely going to use them both, that’s for sure,” head coach Lance Leipold said.
In last week’s season opener at Dickinson State, Anderson received the bulk of the carries, rushing 16 times for 80 yards. While Coppage had only seven carries for a career-low 19 yards, he scored the team’s first rushing touchdown in 2009.
Last year, though, Coppage was a workload through the first 10 games, reaching the century mark in seven of those contests. And the former Northwestern University prospect posted 220 yards in the ’Hawks’ conference opener last year at UW-Eau Claire.
Anderson, on the other hand, didn’t even have a 100-yard rushing game through the first 10 contests and had four games with less than 10 yards – that is until he had his opportunity in the playoffs.
Leipold said Coppage, who is 5-foot-8 and 180 pounds, was asked to do a lot of the heavy lifting but knows he can’t keep Anderson on the sidelines.
“With [Coppage’s] size and what we put on him early in the year and the emergence of Antwan, we’re hoping that can balance itself out,” Leipold said.
And as much as everyone was surprised with Coppage’s start in 2008, Leipold was impressed with Anderson’s poise when his opportunity came.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seem a player emerge with confidence and maturity as much as Antwan did,” Leipold said. “It just all clicked for him, and he’s excited about what he’s doing.”
Senior quarterback Jeff Donovan is also excited about what Coppage and Anderson can accomplish.
“If I don’t have to throw once or twice and we win we could probably do it,” Donovan said. “To have two guys with exceptional talent … I mean it’s going to be fun.”
It might not be fun, however, for defenses, as Anderson – a bruiser not afraid to knock a defender over – pointed out.
“Me and Levell definitely have different running styles,” Anderson said. “Levell’s more [of a] finesse type of runner and speedy. So when I’m in there, they’re not really expecting it. Then throw Levell in there, throws them off.”
Coppage couldn’t have agreed more.
“We both have our specialties and that’s what makes us so great together,” he said.
At this point, though, Leipold still isn’t sure how he is going to divide up minutes but said it’s a problem he’ll happily take.
“We’re going to use them in different ways,” Leipold said. “We hope it can be a very effective 1-2 punch. There could be a chance that you see them on the field together.”
And if last year is any indication, they’ll seize that opportunity.