Auburn football: Bigsby sets sights on being the Tigers’ next great running back

The expectations are sky high for Tank Bigsby entering his sophomore season at Auburn.

He’s the reigning SEC Freshman of the Year. He’s the third-leading returning rusher in the conference, behind only South Carolina’s Kevin Harris and Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller. Pro Football Focus believes he could be the best running back in the country in 2021.

Bigsby isn’t shying away from that. He’s leaning into it.

“I hold myself to accountability. I work hard,” he said Friday. “(Running backs coach Cadillac Williams) pushes me. He tells me how many good running backs have come through here. Of course, I want to be the next.”

The former four-star recruit from LaGrange, Ga., is well on his way there. He put his name in some elite company last season. Bigsby’s 834 rushing yards are five more than Bo Jackson ran for as a freshman in 1982 and rank as the second-highest rookie total in program history, behind only Michael Dyer’s 1,093 yards in 2010. He joined them as the only freshman running backs to rush for more than 100 yards three times against SEC opponents.

And that was during a pandemic-shortened, 10-game campaign played against only Power 5 opponents. Bigsby didn’t even become the focal point of the offense until the third game, rushing just 14 times for 46 yards through the first two. He missed all but three snaps in a November win over Tennessee after suffering a hip injury.

Imagine what he might be capable of in a complete, 12-game season now that he has a year of experience under his belt. Especially since he’ll have a full spring to learn the offense the new coaching staff is implementing, which has a history of producing star rushers.

Bryan Harsin coached Ian Johnson, Doug Martin, Jay Ajayi and Alexander Mattison at Boise State; and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo worked with Knowshon Moreno, Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb at Georgia. All rushed for 1,000 yards at least once, and most did it twice before playing in the NFL.

“It’s a new beginning, so I feel like it’s a good start to have a spring this year,” Bigsby said. “We won’t just have to go into fall camp having to learn this stuff. I feel like it’s a good start.”

Auburn hasn’t produced a 1,000-yard rusher since SEC Offensive Player of the Year Kerryon Johnson in 2017. The program hasn’t gone four consecutive years without a 1,000-yard rusher since 1996-99. Bigsby is as good a bet as any to snap that streak, especially with there being not much depth behind him.

“We’re more downhill this year. We’ve got Mike Bobo, we’ve got Coach Harsin — big offensive guys,” Bigsby said. “I feel like we’re gonna be really good at what we do, especially running the ball.”

That could put him on a path to that level he’s trying to reach, the one where his position coach already is. But he knows he has to earn it.

“I just let my actions speak for itself. I just let the media talk for itself,” Bigsby said. “I feel like if I keep doing what I’m doing and keep my head straight, I’ll get there.”