Monday, September 7, 2015

A player's coach: Romero sent Breitenstein on path to success

In the world of college football, where a program's luck can shift on a single play and attitudes swirl around wildly during the course of a season, distinct eras can't help but pop up.

Eras define a program; they form within the confines of a particular mindset, a coach's attitude, a positive streak here and there. It's only natural for dispositions to ebb and flow as time crawls forward. Rarely, though, is such a period defined not only by what is accomplished then, but also what they leave for the next group of players.

In 2008, an era was winding down in Spartanburg. Now-Wofford running backs coach Dane Romero, one of the main workhorses on an offense which enjoyed Wofford's first-ever consecutive FCS playoff appearances, was counted among the departing class.

His likely replacement? A young freshman named Eric Breitenstein.

"I was fortunate to come in when I did, because I got to learn under Romero," said Breitenstein. "I shouldn't say now a coach, as he was a coach then as well. He was extraordinarily smart football player; I think he could have told you everyone's job on the offense for any given play."

Romero's senior-year mark of 1,078 rushing yards placed eighth all-time in the Wofford record books. However, it didn't last long there, as protégé Breitenstein speedily bested the achievement three times over, peaking with a new school-best 2,035 yards in 2012.

"I came in and learned under him, and then had the opportunity to play a key position in our offense. So much of what we do starts with the fullback."

Before long, Breitenstein's stock rose from that of a relatively unknown underclassman to a worthy replacement at fullback. The growth, though, was spurred by a familiar source.

"[Romero] did everything from stay after meetings to pulling me aside after a practice run," Breitenstein, who helped lead the Terriers to three playoff appearances in four seasons, recalled. "He knew all the subtleties and nuances of our offense and did his best to share every one of them with me.

"I can particularly remember him explaining a track for midline option. I tried it his way, and everything opened up."

Open up it did, as the former high school standout from Valle Crucis, N.C., carried himself into Wofford football immortality. Breitenstein snatched up school records for most career rushing yards (5,730), most 100-yard efforts in a season (twice; 12 in 2012 and 10 in 2011) and highest rushing average per game in a season (156.5 in 2012).

Apart from his aggressive running abilities, Breitenstein also opened eyes by being involved in so many plays. Breitenstein's career accumulation of 912 rushing attempts surpassed Shawn Graves's old record by nearly 200 carries.

"I was fortunate to get a ton of chances to run the ball and almost always held onto the ball, rarely  ever losing yards." Breitenstein briefly digressed, "...the main reason for success was the fact that I played with the best offensive line in the country."

Indeed, a line stacked with players such as Pat Illig, who in 2010 joined Breitenstein, then a redshirt sophomore back in action following an injury-shortened 2009 season, on the All-Southern Conference first team, is an obvious boon for success.

In the end, though, it all goes back to a coach well ahead of his time.

"I feel fortunate to have had Coach [Aaron] Johnson and Coach Ayers directly coach my position of fullback, but I know I couldn't be the player I was without Dane reaching out.

"I also think it's important to remember that he helped me out knowing my whole goal was to play his position. But, of course, he was so far above me I never had a shot."

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