BOONE — Camerun Peoples sat listening to his next question.
The redshirt freshman running back for Appalachian State fielded a query that made him smile: how can the Mountaineers have a star running back in Darrynton Evans — a redshirt junior with blazing speed and all-conference first-team talent — but the fan base seems just as excited, or even more so, about another member of the backfield?
Peoples, the backup in that scenario, attributed all of it to the overall talent of the running backs room, talking about the preparation he put into last season, even though he didn’t know when or if he might play.
Then came the necessary follow-up: But having people excited about you must feel pretty cool, right?
Peoples grinned, then laughed.
“Yeah, it’s still pretty cool.”
Evans kept it simple when asked about the fan interest in Peoples: “They got a reason to (be interested).”
Enter the non-competitive, very supportive relationship between Evans and Peoples, two of the four running backs — along with Marcus Williams Jr. and Daetrich Harrington — in what might be the strongest position group on the team.
The previously mentioned pair is worth clamoring over as Eli Drinkwitz heads into his first season as head coach.
There’s obvious reasons to be excited about Evans: he ran for 1,187 yards and was named the MVP of the Sun Belt Conference Championship Game after taking over as the starter following Jalin Moore’s season-ending injury.
The reasons to be excited about Peoples have more to do with what he could become: Peoples is listed at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds, and his potential has reached a folklore-like status, perpetuated by the previous coaching staff and validated by a 63-yard touchdown run in the New Orleans Bowl.
“It was probably one of my key moments of my life,” Peoples said of that score.
But when Evans and Peoples look at each other, they don’t see a competitor who could take away playing time or touches. Peoples sees proof that preparation can set up success when given the opportunity. And Evans sees a guy he can pour knowledge into, much like previous running backs did for him.
Evans has also noticed an identical nature to the start of Peoples’ career in comparison to his. In 2016, when Evans came in as a true freshman athlete, the running backs group was clogged. Marcus Cox still patrolled the backfield, followed by a group consisting of Moore, Terrence Upshaw and Josh Boyd. On top of that, Williams was redshirting that season, so playing time there looked sparse in the long term for Evans, who was still learning what his role might be as an all-around threat.
Then Cox fought injury, as did Boyd, pushing Moore into starting time and Evans into playing time.
Fast forward to 2018, and Peoples went through a similar scenario. Moore’s career ended when he broke and dislocated an ankle against Arkansas State. That, paired with a preseason ACL tear to Harrington, put Peoples in the thick of helping out if need be. He appeared in two regular-season games, only one in the second half of the season, as well as the bowl game. And while he wasn’t needed every week thanks to the health of Evans and Williams (who chipped in 561 yards and four touchdowns), Peoples excelled because of his focus.
“I was just telling Cam every week, ‘Don’t settle for them saying you’re going to redshirt,’” Evans said. “‘You never know what could happen. Your time is going to come. Just always stay prepared.’”
Evans and Peoples are workout partners, decided by the comparable strength as far as lifting goes. That time allowed Evans to build even more chemistry with his younger counterpart.
The camaraderie between the two was evident as Peoples described last season, watching Evans thrive after stepping into Moore’s role.
“It was electrifying. But it’s not something I was surprised by,” Peoples said. “It was expected because all of us in that room, given the chance, given the opportunity, we’re going to produce.”
Pumping up Peoples became even easier for Evans last year when he noticed how intently the former listened. And that came in handy when the running back unit thinned.
When Evans watched Peoples run for his long touchdown in the New Orleans Bowl, it gave Evans a flashback to the 2016 Camellia Bowl. Evans returned a kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown, giving App State a lead late in the third quarter against Toledo. The Mountaineers won that night in Montgomery, Ala., the second win in what’s now a streak of four consecutive bowl victories.
App State was able to maintain Peoples’ redshirt last season, something that’s only going to help the program in Evans’ eyes. Just like in the bowl game, Evans said he’ll be excited to keep watching and being a hype man when he’s not carrying the ball.
“My snaps were very select through my freshman year, but at the end of the year, you know, you make a big moment and you need to carry that same momentum into the next year knowing you’re going to play a lot more,” Evans said. “It’s going to be real major for Cam — he’s going to have a lot more confidence going.
“He’s already played some college snaps coming out of high school, and think about it: he’s still got four years left. So he can only go up from here.”