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Small gives big boost to Marauders' ground game

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University of Mary running back Dave Small has ran for 506 yards and four touchdowns for the Marauders.

There is nothing little about University of Mary running back Dave Small.

The Marauders' sturdily built 5-foot-9, 215-pound bell-cow back from Lauderhill, Fla., has given the high-powered U-Mary offense much-needed balance, especially the last month.

After a slow start on the ground, the Marauders are now gaining big chunks when Small gets the ball. Through the first two games, the Marauders were averaging less than one yard per carry. Now, Small is accounting for nearly six yards per handoff and is up to 486 yards and four touchdowns on the season.

"Everything starts up front. Our offensive line is great," said Small, deflecting credit. "Right now, we have the best offensive line in the conference, honestly. Those guys are great."

Small would know good line play when he sees it. He started his college football career at NCAA Division I South Florida, playing in 14 games for the Bulls during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.

When it was time to make a change, Small said he found everything he was looking for in Bismarck.

"It wasn't really close," he said of his decision to transfer to U-Mary. "When I took my first visit here, I loved it."

Small, who is studying education, said his new home checks all the boxes.

"I was really glad to join this program. Great coach. Coach Bagnell is amazing. Love the assistants we have here ... everything about it," Small said. "I love the guys we have on our team. Great guys to play with. I feel like we're building something special here."

Small has rushed for 100 yards or more in three of his last four games, and the one game he didn't, he fell just five yards short.

"We have a great offense with Logan (Nelson) leading the way and our passing game is really tough to stop," Small said. "I was always confident we could run the ball. Now, we're doing a great job with it."

The Marauders' offensive line of Sam Harris, Melvin Hudson, Drake Lalim, Conner Paul and Alec Rodriguez has continued to make big strides and there isn't a senior among the bunch.

"We ran for over 100 yards against probably the best defense we'll see," Bagnell said of 18th-ranked Minnesota-Duluth. "Our guys are competing and doing a really good job. I think our offensive line is just good."

The Marauders have several quality running backs, but taking Small off the field is not easy. Heading into Saturday's game at Sioux Falls (4-2), Small's 486 yards rank him sixth in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

"Dave's good, man," Bagnell said. "He runs hard. He's showing everybody what he can do."

Small comes from a football family. His father, David Small Sr., gained nearly 3,000 yards as a running back at Cincinnati from 1991-1993. 

Not only that, Dave's cousin Tylen Small is the leading tackler for the Marauders. The big-hitting safety has 45 tackles, fourth-most of any player in the NSIC.

Joining forces with Tylen was another reason coming to North Dakota from Florida was the right call, he said.

"I love playing with my cousin," Dave said. "He's an amazing player."

The only thing missing is more wins and the Marauders are close. In their four losses, they've led in the fourth quarter in two of them. 

"We're right there. We just have to keep working hard and improving," Small said. "I think even better things are ahead for us."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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