2010 – Running Backs – Returning Players / Recruits

Doesn’t seem like it was all that long ago …

The Buffs were loaded at running back. There was an elusive back who could get outside; a bruiser who could punish defenses between the tackles; a third down specialist who could protect the quarterback, but could also sneak out of the backfield to pick up key yards; and an elite burner who could keep defenses off balance with reverses and trick plays.

Remember when? Back in the good ol’ days? …

Last August?

Colorado fans, players and coaches were positively giddy about the prospects for the CU running game in 2009. Demetrius Sumler, a junior, was the old man of the group, a tough player who knew how to protect the quarterback on passing downs, and could make smart plays on draws and screens. Three sophomores would each bring something to the table: Rodney Stewart was the Buffs’ leading rusher in 2008, with 622 yards despite having only ten or more carries in five games, missing the final games altogether with a leg injury sustained against Texas A&M. Brian Lockridge was coming off a red-shirt season in 2008. As a true freshman in 2007, Lockridge was the Buffs’ third leading rusher, and had CU”s two longest runs of the season. Colorado would find new and improved ways to put Lockridge and his 4.45 speed to the Buffs’ advantage.

And then there was Darrell Scott

Scott, the most sought after running back recruit of the 2007 recruiting claass, had been hampered by injuries in his freshman campaign. Scott did manage 343 yards on only 87 carries in 2008, but was completely healthy and ready to assume the role of dominating running back forecast for him in 2008.

There were four talented players looking for playing time, but running backs coach Darian Hagan was not concerned. “At times, we’ll go with the hot hand,” said Hagan during August drills, “but we always try to play all of our guys … By themselves sometimes, all four of them out there at the same time if need be.”

That was the fantasy. Then came the reality.

You know about Darrell Scott. After setting a school record for kick return yards in a game (208 v. Toledo), Scott again played through a number of injuries. He only had 23 carries on the season by the time he quit the team before the Texas A&M game. [The book hasn’t closed altogether on Scott. He hasn’t been released from his scholarship, and there has been internet speculation that he may return to the Buffs since his first choice, UCLA, declined to offer him a scholarship. Arizona remains a possibility, but it runs contrary to Scott’s stated desire to return to southern California. Stay tuned …]

Rodney Stewart again led the team in rushing, posting 804 yards and nine touchdowns in 2009. Stewart did have five 100-yard games, but also was out for a game (Toledo), and had ten or fewer carries in three other games. Demetrius Sumler never had ten carries in a game, and never had more than 37 yards either rushing or receiving in any game. Brian Lockridge, meanwhile, was never much of a factor on offense. Lockridge only had 15 touches on offense, netting 53 yards rushing and 35 yards receiving (Lockridge did lead the team in kick returns, amassing 699 yards, including a 98-yard return for a touchdown against Oklahoma State).

Overall, Colorado had only 1,055 net rushing yards in 2009. The Buffs ranked 113th in the nation in rushing, ahead of only Texas Tech (not exactly known for its running game), Washington State and Duke amongst BCS schools.

So, what happened?

Take your pick … Certainly, a revolving door along the offensive line didn’t help. Play calling and quarterback play contributed. Playing from behind in almost every game took away the opportunity for continuity in the running game. A first-year offensive coordinator, Eric Kiesau, feeling his way hurt chances for success.

Any reason for hope in 2010?

Well, the running back corps will return largely in tact. We must assume that Darrell Scott will not be back, and the Buffs do lose senior fullback Jake Behrens (who had no carries in 2009, but did have seven catches for 47 yards and a touchdown). Demetrius Sumler will be a senior; Rodney Stewart and Brian Lockridge juniors. Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau will have a full off-season to work with his charges. The offensive line – okay, you’ve heard this one before – will be deeper, stronger, and more cohesive.

Any other players on the roster? Well, there are two freshman walk-ons listed, Trevor LaBarge from St. Louis and Quentin Hildreth from Denver East High. Hildreth is 5’8″, 190 pounds, and is a speed merchant a la Lockridge and Speedy Stewart. LaBarge is 5’11”, 210 pounds, and played fullback in high school. With only one other fullback on the roster for 2010, junior-to-be Ryan Deehan, LaBarge may see playing time in 2010 in that position. [Update (thanks to an alert reader): Trevor LaBarge is one of the walk-ons which will not be returning to the team next fall. I missed the press release which had that note … BTW – If you see any errors on the site, please feel free to drop me a note. I appreciate your assistance in keeping CU at the Game as accurate as possible – cuatthegame@gmail.com].

So, there is some need for recruits for the 2010 class. What’s out there?

The recruiting class discussion began – and may end – with Mister Jones. The 6’2″, 200 pound prospect from Littleton, Colorado, committed to play for the Buffs back in June. Jones runs a 4.5 40, and is considered a four-star prospect. Jones indicated that he wanted to stay close to home and his ailing mother, who is battling cancer.

Sounds great. There’s only one problem …

Two numbers – three and nine.

Colorado’s failure to improve in the win column has had an effect on recruits, and Mister Jones is no exception. After the Buffs opened with losses to Colorado State and Toledo, Jones indicated that he would take a look at other schools. Oregon, Michigan, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado State entered the picture. Jones took his official visit to Boulder during the Missouri game, after the announcement that Dan Hawkins is staying for the 2010 season, sounded more “solid” than he did in September. “I’m still committed to CU,” Jones told BuffStampede.com after the Nebraska game. “All around it is a perfect school for me and it is close to home.”

Update: On Sunday, December 13th, Mister Jones changed his mind – again. “I committed to Texas A&M today,” Jones told BuffStampede.com. “I had to call Colorado and tell them that I’m de-committing. I felt it was right to let them know.” What about his solid commitment to Colorado, and wanting to stay close to home? “I’ve been thinking about it and I want to go out-of-state. I thought Texas A&M would be a better fit for me.” Jones has cancelled other official visits, and now considers himself to be a “solid” commit to the Aggies.

Assuming Mister Jones is gone, who else is on the Buffs’ radar?

Two running backs have official visits this month. The first, Conner Glenn, from Windsor, Colorado, was on campus December 11th-13th, looking for a scholarship offer. Glenn is a one-star prospect who may be asked to come to Boulder as a preferred walk-on. The other running back known to be coming to Boulder is three-star prospect JeremyLangford, from Westland, Michigan. Langford, at 6’0″, 185, is considered the 58th-best back in the 2010 class by Scout.com (Mister Jones comes in at 77th), while Rivals.com only sees Langford as a two-star prospect, and not in its list of top 100 backs. Langford has taken unofficial visits to Michigan and Michigan State, but to date only has offers from Colorado, Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Illinois State.

There are two four-star running backs who have Colorado on their list of favorites, James McConico from Compton, California, and Erick Howard from North Canton, Ohio. McConico is considered the 25th-best running back in the country by Scout.com, and has offers from Nebraska and four Pac-10 schools, Arizona State, Oregon, Arizona, and Washington.  McConico is 5’11”, 194, and runs a 4.52. One “in” for Colorado: McConico has a family friend already in Boulder in Buff cornerback Anthony Wright. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington are the schools most likely to get official visits.

Right below McConico on Scout.com’s list of running backs is another four-star recruit, Erick Howard, coming in at 26th (Rivals.com has Howard as a three-star prospect). Howard won the “Mr. Football” Award for the state of Ohio as a junior, no small feat. The issue is one of academics, which remains unresolved. Howard’s numbers: 5’10”, 210, 4.5. The list of schools interested in Howard is long, but amongst BCS schools, only Cincinnati and Illinois have offered. Howard would like to go to Ohio State, but to date the Buckeyes have not offered, waiting for Howard to qualify. Colorado looks to be an outsider in this race.

There is only one other running back with at least three stars which is considering Colorado, and Buff fans may have to brace themselves for more bad news. This player, Kenny Bell, who is also being recruited as a wide receiver prospect, just happens to ply his trade a few miles from the CU campus, at Boulder-Fairview high school. Bell, at 6’2″, 193, 4.45, made his official visit to Nebraska this past weekend, and signs are that a commitment may be imminent. Bell has made official visits to Minnesota and Texas Tech as well as Nebraska, may well be a Cornhusker by week’s end. The only other main contender for Bell’s services at this point? It would be another tough pill for Buff fans to swallow … Oregon.

The bottom line on recruiting? As noted above, it may have begun – and now is ending – with Mister Jones. After Jones, you are looking at few options, with the best players leaning towards playing elsewhere.

In 2010, Colorado may depend even more upon Rodney Stewart … who has yet to make it through a season without injury, along with increased roles for Demetrius Sumler and Brian Lockridge …

… but we’ve heard that before.

3 Replies to “’10 First Look: Running Backs”

  1. Chuck – I don’t know about Parker Orms, though it is an interesting idea. Polk made the freshman all-Big 12 team as a defensive back, so it sounds like he may have found a home. As to the offensive line, I have no idea how the “strength” of the team became such a liability. It seems like CU has eight or nine “good” linemen, when what we really need is five “great” ones.

    KS – I don’t know that Brown’s leaving was the primary reason Mister Jones de-committed. Rivals lists Darian Hagan as the primary recruiter. Kyle Ringo, on his DC blog, talked about the Buffs getting lazy in their recruiting of Jones, and that he may have de-committed due to neglect.
    But … it may not be over … several sites are reporting that Jones may still change his mind back again. May be wishful thinking …

  2. I’m trying to stay positive, but 2010 will be a LONG year!

    Stuart, do you think the news of Brown leaving had an impact on Jones’s decision to de-commit? I read on another site that Brown had been the primary recruiter of Jones.

  3. Any chance that either Parker Orms or Ray Polk would convert from defense to offense? I know that Polk has made great strides as a defensive back but is the need greater at RB or DB? As for Orms, the young man can definitely run.
    Shouldn’t he at least get a look?

    I’ll be interested to hear your take on the OL. Last year started out with the
    offensive line being one of the “strengths” of the team. What happened?

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