POSITIONAL AWARENESS 2018: A YOUTH MOVEMENT AT RUNNING BACK

By Mike Jones on August 16, 2018 at 10:30 am
Toren Young FTW

© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

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Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, running back.

Previously on Positional Awareness:

  1. Quarterback
  2. Tight End
  3. Defensive End
  4. Defensive Tackle
  5. Wide Receiver
  6. Safety
  7. Cornerback
  8. Offensive Line
  9. Special Teams
  10. Linebacker
Eligibility Remaining    
No. Player Year Ht/Wt. Position 2018 2019 2020 2021 2022
46 Austin Kelly SR 5-11/245 Fullback #2          
36 Brady Ross JR 6-0/245 Fullback          
47 Lane Akre JR 6-0/242 Fullback          
10 Mekhi Sargent SO 5-10/210 Halfback          
21 Ivory Kelly-Martin SO 5-11/200 Halfback #2          
28 Toren Young SO 5-11/221 Halfback #1          
16 Kyshaun Bryan FR(RS) 5-10/198 Halfback          
45 Joe Ludwig FR(RS) 6-0/233 Fullback          
8 Kordell Stillmunkes FR 5-9/180 Halfback          
30 Henry Geil FR 6-1/215 Halfback          
40 Turner Pallissard FR 6-1/220 Fullback          
  Samson Evans FR 6-0/205 Halfback          

One could argue that as Iowa is returning two known players at running back that it shouldn’t be last on Positional Awareness. To this I say: 1) You don’t run things here, I run things here and; 2) Running back is the most important position in a Kirk Ferentz offense and there isn’t an upperclassman on the roster. So here we are.

Looking back, we can all agree that we’re happy with how running back panned out for the Hawkeyes last season. Akrum Wadley lived up to his billing as the most electric player for the Hawkeyes and one of the most captivating in the Big Ten, rushing for 1,109 yards and 10 touchdowns and adding 28 receptions for 353 yards and three touchdowns. As a bonus, his backups saw a decent amount of playing time, especially during Iowa’s blowout games. Iowa is fortunate to have young and talented options in the backfield, but they’ll need consistency and production if the Hawkeyes are to be successful in 2018.

Thunder

HB #1: Toren Young (#28, Sophomore, 5'11, 221 lbs., Monona Grove, Madison, WI)

Whatever you do, do not click this link (it is SFW audio).

See, I told you not to click that link.

Young arrived at Iowa as the prototypical “big back” who had offers from…no one, despite being a three-star recruit. He redshirted his freshman year, showed off in the 2017 spring game and found himself backing up Wadley heading into last season. In 2017 he rushed for 45 yards, 193 yards (4.3 YPC) and two touchdowns. His running style was in the vein of Adam Robinson, LeShun Daniels and Marcus Coker: He has the ability to make one, or even two, cuts, but he’d rather just run straight up the field. The “bad” is that he isn’t going to make a lot of guys miss, he isn’t going to shy away from contact and he can get run down by defensive backs. The “good” is that he’s a slightly more athletic Brinks truck.

Entering the fall, it wasn’t clear whether or not Iowa would go with running back by committee or actually name a starter. Then, via Mark Emmert of the Register, we learned about Toren Young being friends with Ron Dayne’s children as a child, and his mindset when playing:

“I pride myself on being physical and hard-nosed. I want to be known as a north-south guy. I want to be known as a guy that lets my playing do the talking and I can set the tone when I go in there and carry the ball…

I build off of it in physical games. There’s nothing better. I’ve been like that all my life. When you can run through a guy, there’s something that just gets me going and it helps me for the next play, helps me get stronger as the game goes versus running around a guy. It’s just a different feel for me.”

From Mas Casa, we learned about his work ethic when it comes to his timing:

“You can be too late or you can be too early…Most of it comes down to finding that good tempo. You get that through practice reps. Read and press your keys. Those D-linemen, they like to two gap a lot. That’s one of the toughest situations. They’re two gapping and you make a cut too fast and they jump and they’re right there."

Young sounds like a student of the game and someone who really wants it, thus the starting nod in the fall two-deeps. We know what type of player he is, so we don’t have to speculate on what he can do. Of greater concern for Young is that because of the type of player he is, Iowa will need a solid performance from their offensive line to allow him to be productive. Those things go hand in hand and assuming Iowa’s line is up to the task, Young should be in for a productive and bruising season.

Lightning

HB #2: Ivory Kelly-Martin (#21, Sophomore, 5'11, 200 lbs., East, Oswego, IL)

With any big back at Iowa comes a counterpunch in the form of a speedster. Ivory Kelly-Martin is just that. A three-star recruit with a decent list of offers including Arizona, Illinois and Vanderbilt, we expected him to redshirt considering the depth that Iowa featured last season. Instead, he was right there to back up Akrum Wadley (along with Young) when James Butler was lost to injury and without exaggeration he hit the gap faster than any other player I’ve ever seen in a Hawkeye uniform. On the season he rushed for 184 yards on 20 carries (9.2 YPC) and three touchdowns. He didn’t score but in my opinion, his best highlight came against Nebraska:

Now, before you get all excited remember a few things. First, he fumbled against Illinois and went into witness protection for five weeks, so he’ll have to shed the stereotypical “Well he’s fast but he can’t hold onto the ball” label that is likely in the back of Kirk Ferentz’s mind. Second, he’s beaten on lesser competition and never really had to display his elusiveness. So far, he’s only shown he’s fast with an impressive burst. Nothing more.

Like Young, IKM’s performance will depend on how his offensive line performs. Additionally, he should be counted on in the passing game, just like Wadley and Butler before him. He’s got the speed, but does he have the consistency? 

While You Wait For the Others

Mekhi Sargent (#10, Sophomore, 5'10, 210 lbs, Key West, Key West, FL)

Sargent burst onto the scene as a transfer from Iowa Western Community College, choosing the Hawkeyes over Louisville, New Mexico State and UNI. His stat line as a redshirt freshman at IWCC was bonkers: 1,449 yards on 204 attempts (7.1 YPC) and 14 touchdowns. He earned JUCO All-America honors and was named the NJCAA offensive co-MVP of the year. He committed in June and by Big Ten Media Days, he had Kirk Ferentz’s attention:

“I could see him really helping us this year, absolutely, and it would be nice -- we have three backs that we feel good about, three backs that have no experience virtually…”

It wasn’t just the athletic talent that impressed Ferentz, it was Sargent’s work ethic. He immediately bonded with coaches and is working well with Young and IKM, who he hopes to share carries with. Even though Young is your #1, IKM and Sargent could share duties at #2 and ultimately, Iowa could field three legitimate threats at running back.

Kyshaun Bryan (#16, Redshirt Freshman, 5'11, 195 lbs., Thomas Aquinas, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.)

Kordell Stillmunkes (#8, Freshman, 5'9, 180 lbs, Cuba City, Hazel Green, WI)

Henry Geil (#30, Freshman, 6'1, 215 lbs, Preble, Green Bay, WI)

Samson Evans (Freshman, 6'0, 205 lbs, Prairie Ridge, Crystal Lake, IL)

Bryan came to Iowa as a three-star recruit with one of the most impressive offer lists I’ve ever seen: Florida, FSU, LSU, Miami (FL), Michigan, OSU and Virginia Tech. With that, I figured he would’ve been the first choice between the two freshmen when James Butler was injured last season. Instead, it was IKM. There’s no cause for concern yet, but seeing something out of Bryan this season would be nice.

Geil is a three-star recruit who had offers from Indiana, Michigan State, Syracuse and Iowa State. With so much youth on the roster a redshirt is probably in the works.

Evans was recruited as an athlete and listed as a wide receiver on Iowa’s official website, but he’s been getting work at running back. He’s at the “learning stage” so I expect a redshirt.

Stillmunkes is a walk-on from Wisconsin that has unquestionably the coolest name on Iowa's roster.

The Fullbacks:

FB #1: Brady Ross (#36, Junior, 6'0, 245 lbs., Humboldt, Humboldt, Iowa)

FB #2: Austin Kelly (#46, Senior, 5'11, 245 lbs, Stagg, Hickory Hills, IL)

Joe Ludwig (#45, Redshirt Freshman, 6'0, 233 lbs, Middleton, Middleton, WI)

Turner Pallissard (#40, Freshman, 6'1, 220 lbs, Lincoln-Way East, Frankfort, IL)

Ah, the most underappreciated position of Iowa football. Ross is listed as your starter and has seen action in 25+ games in a number of capacities: special teams all-star, backup fullback, and kick returner (no really he returned some kicks). Kelly has a similar story, even though he’s a year older. Ross backed up Drake Kulick for the majority of his career and Kulick was steady and reliable, so we shouldn’t expect anything different from Ross (or Kelly).

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