BLOOMINGTON — With Maurice Shoemaker-Gilmore ahead of him as Illinois Wesleyan's tailback, Morgan Alexander knew there was nothing to do but wait.
For two long years.
"It was never easy sitting," said Alexander. "It's something I've never really done before in my career. I understood the situation and was able to focus on some other things in my game and got better at those while being able to watch a pretty good player."
Shoemaker-Gilmore went out with a bang last year, setting IWU's single-season rushing record with 1,143 yards. But a position viewed as a question mark before this season has turned into a positive for the Titans.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Alexander, the lead in IWU’s running back committee, has gained 218 yards in the Titans’ first two games with a nifty 8.1-yard per carry average.
Alexander and the No. 16-ranked Titans (2-0) open College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin action at 6 p.m. Saturday against No. 5 North Central (1-0) in Naperville.
The same patience Alexander showed in waiting for Shoemaker-Gilmore to graduate is exhibited in his running style. The junior waits for his blockers to do their job before making a quick move.
"He has his own distinct style," said IWU coach Norm Eash. "He has a veteran offensive line in front that really helps, but he can really break tackles. You saw that in both games. He gets yards after contact."
Alexander ripped off a 34-yard touchdown run, breaking a tackle at the 5-yard line, in last week's 42-21 win over Nebraska Wesleyan. He gained 124 yards on just 12 carries as Matese Scott (eight carries, 44 yards) and Nick Harcar (6-39) also saw action in the running back committee.
"I do consider myself a pretty patient runner," said Alexander, a graduate of York High School in suburban Elmhurst. "It helps with the style I run with. I'm not the fastest guy, but I think I have pretty good vision and quickness. That's the way I've always ran."
Alexander, whose father, Earl, played football at Illinois State, only had 11 carries for 41 yards the last two years. Yet he gained plenty from observing Shoemaker-Gilmore on, and off, the field.
"One of the main things I took from Maurice was the professionalism he carried and the way he prepared himself for each game," said Alexander. "That doesn't just start on Saturday, but at the beginning of the week."
North Central waits: After squeaking past Robert Morris, 33-31, in its opener two weeks ago, North Central was off last week.
Whether IWU has an advantage playing two games while the Cardinals have just one depends on which side you sit.
"You can say they've had two weeks to prepare for us," said Eash. "I've had bye weeks where I thought the bye week hurt us because we're not playing a game. I think it evens out. It still comes down to how each team performs Saturday."
Area players on Cardinals: Four players with ties to the Pantagraph area are listed on North Central's two-deep chart this week.
Starters on offense for the Cardinals are sophomore right tackle Colton Bauknecht of Pontiac and junior wide receiver Cory Hartema from Central Catholic. Two area freshmen — linebacker Storm Simmons (Normal Community) and safety J.P. Sikora (Central Catholic) — are listed No. 2 at their positions.
Injury update: The Titans have made it through the first two weeks relatively injury free.
Eash said safety Jeremy Giderof (foot) and Harcar (shoulder) both are probable for Saturday's showdown against North Central.