Sophomore adds dynamic running style to rotation for Rutgers
One of the lingering on-field questions for the Rutgers football team entering the season opener this past weekend against Norfolk State was the status of the running backs corps and how four backs listed as co-starters would work together.
Senior running back Paul James figured to be the one earning the bulk of the carries as a returning starter. But who could be sure of the load James could carry after coming off of an injured knee?
After James went down with a season-ending ACL injury, sophomores Robert Martin and Josh Hicks split the majority of the carries in the second half of last season.
Junior Justin Goodwin also helped bolster the load last season as running back after James went down. Goodwin is second on the Scarlet Knights' active roster with 854 rushing yards.
While four backs boast impressive resumes to be listed as co-starters, it was clear this past Saturday who stood out on the field.
While James earned the official start to the game and played well, it was Hicks who showed up in a big way against the Spartans.
The Palmetto, Florida, native ran the ball 18 times for 118 yards. Hicks also converted on a 25-yard touchdown scurry after breaking a few tackles on the play.
With almost all of Hicks' carries resulting in positive yardage — he lost four yards in total during the course of the game — head coach Kyle Flood credits the back's running style.
“He's powerful and explosive,” Flood said Monday when he addressed the media. “When I say 'powerful,' I mean, he's very difficult to tackle with one guy with an arm. If you don't fit the tackle perfectly, he's very tough to get on the ground. And then as he does get through the first and second level of the defense, he's explosive and can run away from you. That's a unique combination. Josh (Hicks) is a special guy.”
Hicks is a little more modest when describing how he impacts the game as a running back. He doesn’t always think about how he runs, he thinks about where he is going and who is in front of him.
“Explosiveness and power, that pretty much sums it up,” Hicks joked in response to Flood’s description of his running style. “As long as I am doing my job and helping my team, I try to run wherever the hole is and help the team any way I can to get the win. But none of that would have been possible without my offensive line — the job they did was incredible and it led me into the end zone.”
While Hicks built off of last season’s success early on and earned the co-starter role, there are still three other guys who can come onto the field and be successful.
James thinks that when one running back comes off the field and a new one goes on, the Rutgers offense will not miss a beat. For James, it’s all about the chemistry the running back room shares and how each of them can help beat the opposing team.
“I felt like it was fine when we switched out with each other,” James said with splitting carries with Hicks. “It definitely threw something different out there for the defense because Josh really hits the holes and gets it going. I am a little more patient when I find the holes. It kind of made the defense over-think. I like the way we complement each other — it really helped us out and helped us put up yards.”
With Hicks, Martin, Goodwin and James listed as co-starters again for this Saturday’s game against Washington State, it will take more big performances to separate the four running backs.
Hicks is unsure if he will start, and no one on the Rutgers team wants to divulge the strategy regarding the running game.
But what Hicks can say for sure is that when another running back has a big breakout run, he wants to duplicate it. It’s just the competitive nature shared in the deepest position on the Knights team.
“We all work good together,” Hicks said. “We teach each other things, go over plays, but we also compete with each other. Every day in practice and in the game, we compete. If someone breaks a big run, I want to go out there and do the same thing.”
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