New era in UND backfield

GRAND FORKS — John Santiago and Brady Oliveira were the two most productive running backs in the University of North Dakota’s Division I history, which dates back to 2008.

In Division I, the two were Nos. 1 and 2 in career rushing attempts, career rushing yards and Nos. 1 and 3 in career rushing touchdowns and career all-purpose yards.

Santiago and Oliveira — both now with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League — dominated the Fighting Hawks’ backfield for nearly all of Bubba Schweigert’s tenure as head coach.

So it certainly feels like a new era at Memorial Stadium, where the Fighting Hawks went through the fifth practice of the 2019 fall camp Wednesday, Aug. 7.

“I mean, it’s tough to lose two All-Americans like that,” UND running back James Johannesson said. “They did a good job teaching us how to lead the team. But we do miss having them here.”

The effort to replace Santiago and Oliveira starts with Johannesson, a 6-foot-1 transfer from the University of Minnesota.

In 2017, Johannesson had 41 carries for 248 yards and four touchdowns. He bumped that production to 93 carries for 651 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.

For his career, the former Fargo South star is averaging 6.7 yards per carry.

He was dominant in a three-game stretch during the middle of 2018. He ran 22 times for 141 yards at Northern Colorado on Sept. 29, then ran 16 times for 108 yards against Montana and had a breakout performance the following week at Sacramento State, where he ran 11 times for 213 yards.

He broke Dave Osborn’s school record for yards per carry at Sacramento State (19.36).

One of the few knocks on Johannesson at UND has been his durability, an area he tried to address this offseason. He slimmed down from a bulky 250 pounds to 240.