By Garrett Martin
Heading into Jake Spavital’s first season as Texas State’s head football coach, there are a lot of areas of uncertainty. In the midst of all this unpredictability, one group of players has made Coach Spavital’s job much easier; the running backs. After the Bobcats spring game this April, Spavital said that the “running backs jump off the tape a little bit”, in response to the running backs combining for 145 yards on the ground. But just because the running backs showed out in an exhibition game, that doesn’t mean their work is done.
In this new era of Texas State Football, the running backs are led by Nick Whitworth, who also coaches the special teams. Whitworth has a history of working both of these positions at other programs, namely FCS schools in the Big Sky Conference like Portland State and Idaho State.
The ball security drills Whitworth sends the running backs through are bananas, but it might not be too crazy considering Texas State fumbled in the double-digits last season. But still, Whitworth, explained that the very nature of training for ball security in his group using “up downs”.
“With the running back position, you really have to build in this innate grip that’s in your head where you don’t even know how to hold the ball otherwise. And that takes 10,000 reps of continuous, conscious focus on squeezing that ball,” Whitworth said. “It’s kind of like clenching your teeth… you kind of do it all the time and don’t really know it. I’m trying to do the same thing with their care, with their ball security.”
The Bobcats haven’t had much success on the football field recently, as last season’s 3-9 finish made it the Bobcats’ fourth straight losing season. In times like these, many players falter and lose trust in each other, but Coach Whitworth trusts the running backs, and he likes how tight-knit their group is.
“You create pressure when you’re uncertain. There’s no uncertainty with this group,” Whitworth said. “That’s nothing to do with me. Honestly, it’s more to do with who they are as people and their work ethic and they’re really bound together.”
Anthony D. Taylor is one of the senior members of the running backs, and can be expected to be used quite a bit in Texas State’s offense. Last year, he racked up 86 attempts for 312 yards. Those who are accustomed to college football statistics will tell you that isn’t a lot for a lead running back.
Those rushing woes seem poised to change for the better though, as with the arrival of new head coach Jake Spavital, comes the arrival of an “Air Raid offense”. Defenses will be forced to cover every inch of the field when they play Texas State, and it will surely open up more room for a running back like Taylor. Still, Taylor seems focused on being coached up, and the job he has to do on the field.
“I gotta do what he (Coach Whitworth) asks me to do,” Taylor said. “Just executing my assignment when it’s done. Being in my playbook, when he calls me, knowing the answer to it.”
Senior running back LD Harris is another veteran at Texas State. Harris harped on the identity of this group saying “We pride ourselves in being the best unit, and putting ourselves in a position to make plays, so that’s what we plan to do”.
He didn’t see much action from the running back position last year, but he did play a pivotal role on special teams. He talked about his role in the running back rotation and how he expects to play after training hard in the offseason.
“This past year I’ve been able to grow and progress as a player on the field. I have leaders with me like AT, I talk to (Caleb) Twyford all the time, and we all combine each others’ styles and help each other find how we play.”
This position is going to be an interesting one to watch this fall. The Bobcats need a strong running game to keep up a balanced attack on offense in order to win games. The ‘Cats also need runners who don’t fumble the football. The Bobcats lost 11 fumbles in 2018, tied for 27th most in the NCAA. Thanks to the ball security drills from coach Whitworth, expect that number to decrease this fall.
“Those guys’ effort and commitment to what we’re asking them to do has been the difference in my mind,” Whitworth says.
Featured image by Garrett Martin.