ROME, Ga. - If Carroll College's high-powered running attack wants to see the same success against St. Xavier (Ill.) during Saturday's NAIA national championship football game, the No. 2 Saints (13-1) will have to get past Michael Prosser.
The All-American defensive end converted back to middle linebacker toward the end of his senior year and has been leading the No. 5 Cougars (13-1) all season, no matter where he plays.
"It's been fun," said Prosser, who has 90 total tackles, 21.5 for a loss and 10 sacks. "I was a linebacker all through high school and they moved me to D-line when I got to Xavier. But being able to go back to linebacker now, since week 10, it's a fun change for me. I feel comfortable back there."
Comfortable enough to take on the Saints' 6-foot, 227-pound running back Chance Demarais, who leads the NAIA with 1,748 rushing yards (134.5 ypg), 19 touchdowns and already a couple of Carroll records.
"He's a very physical running back, we know that, and their line is very fast and very physical," said the 6-2, 240-pound Prosser, a native of Rockton, Ill. "I think this year we've played a lot closer games against a lot tougher opponents so that has really conditioned us overall."
Included in that group of teams is Marian (Ind.), which demolished the Cougars 27-9 during the regular season, thanks to Tevin Lake's 139 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries (5.8 yard average). In a semifinal rematch with Marian, however, the Cougars limited the opposition to 168 yards and one touchdown for the 30-27 win and their first chance at a national title in school history.
Before that, the Cougars held MidAmerica Nazarene (Kan.) to 68 rushing yards, Bethel (Tenn.) to just 45 the week prior and Jamestown (N.D.) to 47. Throughout the playoffs, they're allowing an average of 82 yards per game.
They're looking to keep those kinds of statistics against the reigning champion Saints, who are aiming for their record-tying seventh championship.
"I think our main plan for this game was to eliminate or slow down the run game a bit and force them to pass it more, because they are a run-oriented team," Prosser said.
One that is likely to run the ball harder and faster than any foe Saint Xavier has seen.
While Demarais, a Malta native, had little trouble eclipsing the millennium mark, redshirt freshman Dustin Rinker has also added 1,067 yards and seven touchdowns in relief, giving the Saints the first duo to reach 1,000 yards each since Ryan Grosulak and Jed Thomas in 2005.
Like those two, who helped Carroll to a fourth straight national title in a row, Demarais and Rinker bring different skill sets to the field. Demarais, though nimble enough to make the cuts that send defenders diving, has been a bulldozer this season. Meanwhile, the 5-9, 200-pound Rinker, who hails from Riggins, Idaho, brings a definite change of pace and has the speed to run away from linebackers worn out by Demarais' pounding.
The last time the Saints and Cougars met, Carroll rushed for 305 yards and two touchdowns, including one by wide receiver and Wildcat specialist Matt Ritter - a weapon they still have.
Prosser said he will continue to shift back and forth between positions, but will mainly stay at linebacker, where he is listed on the depth charts.
Saints head coach Mike Van Diest said that with Prosser's ability to get sideline-to-sideline on any play and be equally dangerous at either position, he will certainly have the offense's attention.
"Obviously, we're going to want to know where he's at, but that's not going to stop him," Van Diest said. "He's going to be out there on every play."