Each Bearkat football game this fall it seems Sam Houston running back Timothy Flanders breaks another record.
The two-time All-America selection’s current season rushing total of 766 yards in five games leads FCS football nationwide. He has risen to prominence in the race for the 2013 Walter Payton Award.
The Payton Award honors the top offensive performance in FCS football. Flanders was a finalist for the honor in both 2011 and 2012.
Flanders’ latest accomplishment was a 280-yard rushing performance on 32 carries in Sam Houston’s 49-34 victory over No. 2 ranked Eastern Washington Sept. 28. Those yards made the senior from Midwest City, Okla., the first Southland Conference player to total 5,000 career rushing yards. The league voted Flanders "Offensive Player of the Week" for the second time this season (and seventh of his career). He also was named as FCS national player of the week by three national web sites.
“It feels good. I’m very humble and very blessed,” Flanders said. “It’s a team effort. You go back and watch most of those long gains and its downfield blocking by the receivers that’s making my job easier. The offensive line is great and our defense does a great job of getting us back on the field. Our running game opens up the passing game and (Brian) Bell does a great job throwing the ball.”
Flanders holds 31 Sam Houston school records and nine Southland Conference marks. He now ranks No. 12 all-time in FCS career rushing touchdowns and stands as only the 22nd running back in FCS history to rush for 5,000 or more career yards.
“They’ve been playing football in this conference for 50 years. It’s great that a guy that’s such a team player gotten all these records,” SHSU head coach Willie Fritz said.” The offensive linemen that played with him over the years, quarterbacks, receivers, anybody that’s been involved in the scout team take a part in this record that he just established for them. I’m very proud of that.”
The Bearkat offensive is keenly aware each time Flanders is close to history.
In the Incarnate Word game when the senior running back took over as the Southland’s all-time ground gainer, the group discussed going to “get this one for Tim” when the drive began following an interception. It took just two plays and 41 seconds to get Flanders to the end zone.
“I remember running down. We all ran down, gave him a high-five to congratulate him,” sophomore offensive lineman Zachary Stevens said. “It was just a great moment for him and for our team. It might not seem like it, but that record means a lot to the offensive line because just knowing that we helped him do that. It’s a great moment for all of us.”
A younger offensive line with Matt Boyles the only senior in the group has found that Flanders has helped their transition into starters go a lot smoother.
“It’s great. Our offensive game is centered around the running game,” Stevens said. “Having a guy like Tim in the backfield and having the running backs that we do have, they complement us. Sometimes we might not look good but they make us look good. Having guys like Flanders and Richard Sincere who can spring free and break one for six, or get us the first down whenever we need one, it just makes everybody look better. He’s a great player to have back there.”
Flanders has a penchant for stepping up in big games, including the last two national semifinal games when he rushed for a combined 518 yards. Saturday’s performance was no different as he posted his second highest single game rushing total ever and scored twice against the Eagles.
“He’s a great player,” Fritz said. “He’s got to be one of the best running backs in the nation; I don’t care what level you’re talking about. He’s done it day in, day out, game in and game out. I think everybody in the ballpark and my daughter sitting over there knew Tim was going to get the ball every time out toward the end of the ballgame and he still made yards. He’s an excellent ball player and he deserves all the accolades he gets.”
An amazing aspect of Flanders’ career marks is the large amount of games where he has given way to his backups with the contest’s outcome already in hand. Flanders has not had a carry in the final quarter in 14 of the Kats’ last 33 games. In his three-year career, he has sat for a total of 24 quarters, the equivalent of six games.
When Flanders has played in the fourth quarter of close games, he has been very effective. His impressive final period performances in victories include 9-for-67 at New Mexico, 10-for-60 vs. Stony Brook and 9-for-82 in the semifinals with Montana in 2011.
In the 2012 semis at Eastern Washington, Flanders was 10-for-69 in the fourth. In this year’s EWU victory at Bowers, the running back chewed up valuable clock time with 13 carries for 82 fourth quarter yards including four first downs and a touchdown.
Flanders and his teammates all know there is a lot of football left to be played. Sam Houston has an open date on Oct. 5 then a week later begins Southland Conference play with a Homecoming matchup against the Lamar Cardinals. Looming ahead are road encounters with nationally-ranked Southland foes McNeese State and Central Arkansas.
“We’ve been getting better every week,” Flanders said. “I tell the guys to keep maximizing every opportunity and we have. We’ve got to keep working hard every day to win conference, win playoff and win the national championship. We’ve got the highest expectations around here. We can get a lot better than this.”