CARBONDALE — Daquan Isom was all about the rooms in the offseason this year: classroom, weight room, meeting room.
The 5-foot-8, 186-pound junior running back added about 10 pounds of muscle this year. Hopefully, the extra muscle will help him get through an entire season injury free for the first time. The Orlando native entered the season with a career average of 6.62 yards a carry in 14 games. He played in just five games last year and nine in 2015. Saturday, he started SIU's season off with a 46-yard run on the first play of scrimmage, only to twist his knee in the process.
Isom carried twice more for nine yards on that opening drive, and finished the Salukis' 55-3 rout of Mississippi Valley State with a game-high 14 carries and 97 yards.
"Health-wise, I felt great. Early in the game I had a little tweak in my knee, but I tried to keep going and test myself because there's going to be games like that, that I have to keep going," Isom said. "I'm going to get it back better this weekend in treatment, and, hopefully, next week it'll be back 100 percent."
Isom's 1-yard touchdown run midway through the second quarter pushed SIU's lead to 33-3. Matt Sotiropoulos' extra-point attempt made it 34-3, but the Salukis brought Isom back out in the third quarter to, honestly, get him more playing time. Isom missed the last six games of last season with a hamstring injury.
"His knee tightened up a little bit, or whatever he had, and it'll be good for him," SIU coach Nick Hill said. "I told him, he probably doesn't want to hear this, but it'll be good for him to wake up (Sunday) and be sore, and have to go through that, but he still had to come back out after halftime, after stiffening up, get loose and still be able to carry the ball in the second half. I thought that was just as important, him being in the middle of a game. He has to get back in the swing of things, and I thought he did that."
Isom ran for no gain on his first carry of the third quarter and seven yards on his last attempt of the game. He was one of nine Salukis to carry the football at least once in their biggest win since beating Division II Quincy 70-7 in the opening game of Saluki Stadium in 2010.
D.J. Davis rushed for two touchdowns (30 and seven yards), Jonathan Mixon had a 1-yard plunge, and backup quarterback Tanner Hearn escaped the pocket for a 26-yard touchdown run in the victory. Starting quarterback Sam Straub hit fullback/tight end Hans Carmien for a 17-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game and found Connor Iwema on a 7-yard slant route for another score.
Hearn, playing extended minutes for the first time in his career, found wide receiver Raphael Leonard on the left side of the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter. SIU passed for 236 yards and ran for 285 with a refurbished offensive line. Starting guards Josh Podzielinski and Ernest Dye Jr. missed the game with injuries. Left guard Matt Chmielewski and center Jack White made their first career starts as Salukis.
Jacob Marnin, who started all last year at center, moved over to guard. Hill said Podzielinski was close to playing Saturday and should be cleared from his hamstring injury to go at Southeast Missouri State this weekend.
SIU didn't face much adversity Saturday, but Isom liked the look of his 1-0 team in its season premiere.
"We actually looked like a team that wanted to play together," Isom said. "Nobody was being like an individual. We just wanted to make a play."