Football: Freshmen vie to complement Huggins
When Dontea Ayers first arrived on campus, he was far from hesitant to contact Savon Huggins with concerns.
“I had a lot of questions,” Ayers said. “I was blowing up Savon’s phone a lot.”
The aspirations for the freshman running back to become Huggins’ complement in the Rutgers football team’s backfield have led the Salisbury, Md., native to rely on the veteran in front of him for answers on everything from the playbook to how to break down practice film.
“Since I got here, he has helped me with what I should be doing and what I shouldn’t be doing with the plays and everything,” Ayers said. “He’s been like a big brother to me. Any questions I have, I can just contact Savon.”
Though there is still a lot of time between the Scarlet Knights’ spring game and the start of training camp in August, the way Ayers takes that advice will determine if the early enrollee will see some time behind Huggins.
With the departure of Jawan Jamison, Huggins is the only returning running back from last season’s team with considerable playing time.
While junior Michael Burton will have his chance to tote the rock from the fullback position, Huggins will still need to be relieved. His injury history in his two seasons in Piscataway is also a reason why head coach Kyle Flood would like someone to emerge as the Knights’ No. 2 running back sooner rather than later.
So it will be up to Ayers, redshirt freshman Desmon Peoples and sophomore Paul James to emerge as Huggins’ complement.
Only 2 of those 3 received reps Saturday at High Point Solutions Stadium during Rutgers’ first scrimmage of the spring.
James, who is still recovering from a hip injury he sustained earlier in the spring, sat out. So Peoples and Ayers took the majority of the carries with the No. 2 offense.
“I’m pleased with the depth,” Flood said after the scrimmage. “I think at different times we saw some nice things from Desmond Peoples, saw some things from Dontea [Ayers]. ...We have a group of running backs that I think can have a positive effect on the team.”
Peoples and Ayers offer different running styles for Flood.
At 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, Peoples brings a change of pace from Huggins’ downhill style of running. His 14-yard scamper to the outside of the field during the scrimmage showed why he is the Knights’ quickest backfield option.
Ayers’ thick build — he is also 5-foot-9 but weighs 205 pounds — allows him to get through the first level of the defense.
If Rutgers wants to duplicate its running back production from last season, Peoples knows either he, Ayers or James needs to emerge in the coming months.
“It’s very important,” Peoples said of a serviceable backup. “Like we did last year, we’re not going to use just one running back the whole game. It’s very important to develop the No. 2 back.”
Jamison recorded 1,075 yards on the ground last season for Rutgers, while Huggins’ 410 rushing yards and two touchdowns came on 119 attempts.
With Huggins stepping into the starting role, Ayers knows there are plenty of opportunities for carries.
But right now he is just worried about overcoming the learning curve presented to first year players.
He also knows he has Huggins around for help.
“My main focus right now is just getting better and getting back to 100 percent,” Ayers said. “Everything else — the depth chart and where I’ll be placed — that’s going to come. I’m just worried about bettering my craft.”
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