Former Etowah standout Tyray Devezin, right, is aiming even higher this season after a breakout sophomore year at Mercer.

Big things could be in store for Mercer running back Tyray Devezin as he prepares for his junior season.

The Etowah product was primarily a special teamer during his freshman season, but after leading the Bears with 926 rushing yards -- good for second in the Southern Conference -- and eight touchdowns last season, even more will be expected in 2019.

“I expect to continue where I left off,” Devezin said. “I feel like I finished the season really well. Having to take on the starting role later in the season, I think we’ll benefit from it, and people can see I’m going for big things. I’m expecting huge things this season with a whole other load on my back.”

In addition to another year of experience, the 5-foot-8, 223-pound Devezin should also see a jump in opportunities.

He had a team-high 164 carries last season. The now-graduated Tee Mitchell, who started the first eight games of the season before being injured, was second on the team with 126, and no other running back returns with more than seven carries from a season ago.

“I’m expecting a pretty big load, which is nothing new for me,” Devezin said. “I think people really sleep on our depth, though. We had a lot of younger guys behind me. Most people haven’t really seen those guys play. It’s a big group, but I want to be there to lead it.”

Even though Devezin ended the season as Mercer’s lead back and an honorable mention on the HERO Sports Sophomore All-American team, it took him some time to get going in a reserve role.

Devezin rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns against Jacksonville and 155 yards against VMI, but being held to 45 yards against Memphis, 26 against Samford, 25 against The Citadel and 12 against Yale had him averaging just 60.7 yards per game through the season's first six games.

“My freshman year, I just wanted to get in rotation,” Devezin said. “Last year, when I started to get in it a little bit, I had a talk with my coach. I told him I thought I could benefit the team with more carries. Once I started getting my rhythm, I think I did well, but adjusting to just a couple touches a game is pretty tough.”

Things turned around against Western Carolina, when Devezin rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries. After that, Mitchell’s injury cleared the way, and Devezin had at least 18 carries in each of the season’s final four games.

He rushed for 97 yards against Wofford and 113 against East Tennessee State. He posted 73 rushing yards and 37 receiving yards against Chattanooga, and he capped the season with the best game of his career, rushing for 185 yards and catching five passes for 50 yards in a loss to Furman.

“My teammates around me had that confidence in me,” Devezin said. “No one around me was talking like that was it for the running back position. They had faith in me. That was the biggest thing. It gave me confidence I could carry that load and be the best player on the field.”

That much has not changed for Devezin.

A two-time all-state selection at Etowah, he has always benefited from more carries as he used his physical running style to wear down opponents.

“My style hasn’t changed too much,” Devezin said. “I still really try to be tough to tackle. I’ve become more patient with my reads, though. I can’t brute-strength everyone anymore. You have to make the right read every play and understand you won’t have as many 60- or 70-yard big plays as there were in high school.”

Now, as Devezin prepares for his junior season, the one thing he does want to change is the level of team success. Mercer went 5-6 each of his first two seasons, and Devezin is in a position to change that more than any other time since he arrived in Macon.

“We just have to develop that winning mentality,” he said. “This is a young program. We have a lot of talent and have recruited well. A lot of these guys have won before, so understanding how to translate that to college will help us have great success.”

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