After a series of unfortunate events leading up to the Western Kentucky game, the starting role in the running back position fell onto Aaron McAllister. The redshirt freshman played both sides of the ball throughout high school, but came to Charlotte as a defensive back. It was only a month before the 2017 season began that McAllister started working as a running back for the 49ers.
McAllister first played the sport when he was five years old. With his dad being the defensive coordinator for the Pop Warner team, McAllister got his early start in the game learning defense. In middle school, playing multiple other sports created the opportunity for him to begin running with the football.
“I guess I just love having the ball in my hands, so it kinda worked out. I ran a lot. I ran track, played basketball, so the athleticism came from playing different sports,” McAllister said.
Throughout high school, McAllister played both sides of the ball. On offense he recorded 757 rushing yards, 440 receiving yards, 15 rushing touchdowns and nine receiving TDs. Defensively, McAllister created four interceptions. Though he had experience with both position, when he came to Charlotte, McAllister was recruited to play defense.
“DB was the best position that they wanted me at, so I took that. I played both sides of the ball in high school, so it wasn’t a biggie for me,” McAllister said.
McAllister served his redshirt season during the 2016 season but still worked at the DB position. Before summer camp began for the team, head coach Brad Lambert asked if he would be on board with switching to running back for the 2017 season.
“When we looked at our team, we felt like we needed another running back going into August,” Lambert said. “I called him in, and I don’t ever just move guys to move them. I want them to be in with the decision because if a guy doesn’t want to move, he’s probably not going to give you all he’s got. I called him in and talked about it and he said ‘I’d love to move, coach,’ he wants to contribute.”
Though he was more than willing to make the change for his team, it required additional work for McAllister.
“It was two days before camp, so it was a lot of learning. I had to learn the offense, the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball,” McAllister said.
Though he put in the extra effort through camp and the first weeks of the season, McAllister still had to wait his turn, falling behind sophomore backs Robert Washington and Benny LeMay.
“I knew I would be third string. We had Robert Washington and Benny LeMay ahead of me, so just watching those guys, keeping those guys focused. Just being patient, that was key because I knew I wasn’t going to play right away. It would have to be time for me to get in there because I was new to the system, to the offensive side. I was just being patient, waiting on my time.”
McAllister saw the field in the season-opener against Eastern Michigan with special teams. It was at Kansas State that McAllister saw the field for the first time in his new running back position this season. He recorded six carries for 18 yards. He also played a role on special teams, returning one kick-off for 66 yards. Against N.C. A&T, the redshirt freshman recorded a 39-yard kick-off return, but no rushing yards.
The next week, against Georgia State, McAllister got two carries for 16 yards. The Georgia State game marked the first contest without Charlotte’s starting running back, Washington, whose early departure moved McAllister up to the number two slot for the backs.
“When Robert wasn’t part of our team anymore, that really elevated him into that role. He’s really done a nice job, he works extremely hard at it, he studies it hard and he’s got some natural abilities as we saw Saturday,” Lambert said.
The next week, running behind just LeMay, McAllister got 12 carries for 69 yards at FIU. The following week against Marshall, he was second on the team in rushing yards with 35. Late in the Marshall game, LeMay went down with a concussion. This set the stage for McAllister’s first career start at running back at Western Kentucky.
“It felt great just having the opportunity, being behind Robert and Benny for the majority of the season, and then having the opportunity to start. It was just great, it felt amazing,” McAllister said.
In his first career start, McAllister had a career night. He rushed for two touchdowns and 157 yards, including an 89-yard breakaway that surpassed Kalif Phillips’ 77-yard run for the longest in program history.
“I didn’t really realize that I ran that far for that long of a touchdown until I started seeing the tweets. It was great,” McAllister said. “Just getting to the end zone was the only thing on my mind. I know we had a lot of game left, so I really wasn’t that excited. It felt great to just have those touches and score a touchdown. Being back in the end zone really felt amazing.”
After seeing McAllister’s performance at WKU, Lambert has more confidence in the 49ers run game heading to future games.
“We’ve been letting Benny take the load, and now Aaron went out and carried the load for us so we feel really confident in that,” Lambert said. “We’ll try to split those reps as even as we can now. You’re just more comfortable putting Aaron in now that he’s carried the load for you.”
The next week, the 49ers geared up to face UAB for their homecoming showdown. With LeMay still getting his feet back under him after his concussion, McAllister was still the go-to guy for the running backs.
His finished the game with 10 carries for 38 yards, coming in second on the team behind quarterback Hasaan Klugh who posted 140 rushing yards.
The 49ers scored their first win of the 2017 season against UAB, moving them to 1-7 this year. Though Charlotte is still growing and learning, the raw talent of the players on the roster is what gives McAllister hope for more success down the road.
“We have the potential, we just need to find that spark that’s going to keep leading us in the right direction that’s going to help us get that W sometime,” McAllister said. “I don’t think being young is a problem, we have the athleticism to make plays and to do what we need to do, we just have to keep fighting.”