Hop on 'The Bus': Burly running back leads Auburn into NIC-10 football contention

His Auburn teammates call him PJ.

He patterns himself after Marshawn Lynch. And his dad calls him Jerome Bettis.

“I like contact,” Auburn senior running back Patrick Dubose Jr. said. “Like a Marshawn Lynch style. Jerome Bettis? My dad called me that. Every time I run the ball, he says: ‘That’s Jerome Bettis. Ah, that’s Jerome Bettis.’ When I told him, ‘I don’t know who that is,’ he shows me highlight clips of Jerome Bettis. I feel I am just like him, too.”

The 5-foot-9, 240-pound Dubose might be the most physical runner in the NIC-10. His highlight play last year was a fourth-and-1 run where he disappeared into a pile of East defenders, was shoved backward at first before the pile — with Dubose hidden in the middle — slowly but surely surged forward for five yards before Dubose then somehow broke free of the pack and raced 39 yards for a TD.

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“He did that against a few teams,” Auburn coach Willie Tolon said. “He stays on his feet by his balance. He’s got very good feet. People mistake him for being unathletic, but he’s very athletic. I have never seen a kid that size who can still move like that.”

That does make him like NFL Hall of Fame running back Jerome “The Bus” Bettis, who looked like an overweight bruiser at 5-11, 252 pounds but was actually best at cutting back and finding a way to wedge his large body through small holes at the line of scrimmage.

“PJ is very good at cutting back,” Tolon said. “He doesn’t shy away from contact, but he’s looking with his vision to score. He is not looking for contact, but if it comes, he knows how to handle it.”

Dubose, who is also one of Auburn’s defensive leaders at linebacker, has helped the Knights (2-1) be the surprise team in the NIC-10 this year. They play East (1-2) Friday in a key game in their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2019.

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“It’s really fun watching PJ,” said quarterback Anthony Purifoy, who passed for an Auburn record 1,355 yards as a junior last year. “He runs heavy. It’s hard for people to tackle him. When he runs through piles, the first man can’t take him down. It’s going to take at least two to take him down for sure. When he does all that, it’s fun to watch.”

It’s also fun to do.

“When somebody hits me,” Dubose said, “that gives me more motivation. On the next play, I am looking at that guy, going straight at him.

“If you run somebody over, you can talk smack after and they can’t say nothing. If you are juking somebody, that’s also good — but it’s not the same as running somebody over.”

Dubose ran for 607 yards as a junior, averaging 6.6 yards per carry and scoring 10 touchdowns, only two shy of the conference lead. This year he has 212 yards and three TDs and is against averaging 6.6 yards per rush.

His coach says “he is just as good at linebacker. Once he gets his hands on you, you are going down.”

Dubose tries to pattern himself after Ray Lewis on defense.

“When I see somebody, I just want to hit him,” he said. “I don’t think Ray Lewis was that quick, and neither am I, but I am quick enough to get there. If one of my corners struggles to bring down a big running back, I’m coming to clean up.”

And if someone struggles to bring him down, well then, he doesn’t care how many opposing tacklers come to clean up: He won’t go down easily.

“I do have good vision,” Dubose said. “When I get the ball, first you’ve got to see where you want to go. If you only stick to one thing, that’s how they play you. If I just keep running people over, they are going to keep expecting me to run at them and they will hit my legs. But if I do a juke move or jump over them, they are really surprised about that. They wonder, ‘How do I stop that guy?’

“If one person is on me, I am going to get off. But if 10 people come, that’s when they got me.”


“That might not get me, either. When everyone is around me, all I think about is: ‘Keep moving, keep moving. I’ve got this.’ That East highlight,” he said with a smile, “shows it’s hard to bring me down.”

Friday's game against East will highlight two drastically different running styles, with Dubose pitted against his longtime friend Javius Catlin, East's fast and shifty senior who is chasing the league's career rushing record and is coming off a 240-yard, five-TD game.

"Javius is my boy," Dubose said. "I know how much work he puts in. I know how much work I put in. That should be a good match. Everyone should come out to see it."

Contact:, @matttrowbridge or 815-987-1383. Matt Trowbridge has covered sports for the Rockford Register Star for over 30 years, after previous stints in North Dakota, Delaware, Vermont and Iowa City.

This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Auburn's Patrick Dubose Jr. is most physical RB in NIC-10 football