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IOWA FOOTBALL POSITION PREVIEWS: RUNNING BACK

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IT’S THUNDER AND LIGHTING FEATURING TOREN YOUNG AND IVORY KELLY-MARTIN

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time when Iowa’s running back room was among the strongest in the country. It seemed like the Hawkeyes could trot out just about any player on its roster who could carry a ball and run fast or break tackles well and they would become a 1,000-yard rusher for the Black and Gold.

That time is the present. It more or less always has been, save for a few blips known as the AIRBHG years featuring a converted fullback as a three-down rusher.

Ten of Kirk Ferentz’s 19 years at the helm of the program include a 1,000-yard rusher on the roster. 2015 included two one-thousand rushers. And 2007, ‘10, ‘13, and ‘15 included guys who got really friggin’ close to the 1,000-yard mark.

What I’m trying to say here is: Iowa tries to run the ball; more often than not does it well, and when it does so really really well, great things happen. Curiously, though, one guy carrying the entire load doesn’t necessarily lead to great things for the entire team. See: Greene, Shonn, in 2008 and Coker, Marcus, in 2011.

When Iowa has two or more running backs playing bell cow, however, that’s when things seem to click. Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher in 2009 and Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels (and Akrum Wadley) in 2015 lend more to this trend.

And so, when presented with these cherry-picked facts for this particular argument, I’m delighted to tell you Iowa is going to have incredible success on the ground in 2018 if Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young can stay healthy.

2017 was the Akrum Wadley and James Butler show for five weeks or so. Then Butler got hurt and it became the Wadley show, with appearances from Young and IKM only sparingly.

I realize the sample size is small for Iowa’s premier tailbacks next year, but I’m really optimistic for this duo.

Toren Young saw just 45 carries in 2017 while IKM received 20 (in addition to hauling in 4 passes). Neither back saw any action in 2016; Young redshirted and Kelly-Martin was a true freshman last year.

Because of this, their sample sizes in Iowa uniforms are fairly small.


And not all of them are good.

Whatever, I’m reacting as both these guys are fresh and hungry for a stellar 2018 campaign.

Young and IKM are both former three-star recruits with options to play at all the schools you’d expect from three-star Iowa running back recruits. Young, a native of Wisconsin, famously didn’t get an offer from the Badgers. He’s mad.

Kelly-Martin, of Oswego, IL., had offers from Illinois and Wisconsin and Arizona but took the Iowa offer instead. At 5-11, 200 lbs, IKM with be the lightning to Young’s thunder, who is the same height as Kelly-Martin but has 20 lbs on him.

I’m not saying we’re gonna see two 1,000-yard rushers this year a la Daniels and Wadley in 2016, but I’m saying we’re gonna see two 1,000-yard rushers this year.

With Nate Stanley and Noah Fant running the pass game to something of a Bill Belichick wet dream, I fully expect these two to exploit any and all holes the Iowa offensive line will open up on play action. It will be glorious.

The fun doesn’t necessarily need to stop with these two, however.

RB TRANSFER U

Mekhi Sargent, Soph.

The running back room wasn’t terribly crowded going into this season — there were just five guys on scholarship at the position a few short months ago. After freshman Henry Geil arrived on campus that number grew to six. And with Iowa bringing JUCO transfer into the fold in Mekhi Sargent we’re at a more comfortable seven.

Sargent just finished up his freshman season at Iowa Western, and it was a good one! 1,449 rushing and 14 touchdowns turned some heads on the Iowa coaching staff, and having a guy so close probably made the decision to extend a chance to play an easy one.

At 5-11, 215 lbs, Sargent is similar in size to both IKM and Young. While I’m not sure what he’ll provide the other two don’t, I’m fairly confident he’s already RB3 on the roster, and will be the change-of-pace back for when everyone needs a breather.

Sargent was a decorated recruit out of Key West in 2016, but didn’t get any offers he was interested in, apparently. He went to IWCC in 2017, put up some numbers and drew offers from Louisville and Iowa, committing to the latter. I expect a productive career out of him.

Artist formerly known as RB3

Kyshaun Bryan, RS Freshman

Kyshaun Bryan famously had an offer from Clemson back in 2016 but turned down Dabo Swinney for Kirk Ferentz. His offer list also included Michigan, Ohio State, Florida and LSU. Pretty impressive for a three-star guy.

Bryan redshirted in 2017 and was the No. 3 back behind IKM and Young during the spring game in April. His spot on the depth chart will likely be eaten by Sargent, for now.

I’m still optimistic about Bryan’s future, though I’m interested to see how he’ll handle his recent burial on the two-deeps.

Freshman phenom

Henry Geil, Freshman

Every now and then, a true freshman cracks the depth chart and makes an impact for Iowa as a teenager. I don’t expect that to happen this year, but Henry Geil has the makings of a D1 back already.

At 6-1, 215 lbs, he’s a big boy. A native of Green Bay, his offers out of high school include Indiana, Iowa State, Michigan State and Syracuse. You’ll notice again his hometown team did not extend an olive branch to a talented local prospect.

I don’t expect Iowa to need to dive this deep into its running back pool, but if that time calls, I suspect this is where Geil stands in the room.

The rest

Camron Harrell, RS Freshman
Samson Evans, Freshman

The jury is still kind of out on these two. Harrell entered the program as a defensive back, but changed positions in the spring. There are rumblings he doesn’t like his new position and that’s creating some friction with him and the coaches.

Evans is the reigning Gatorade player of the year in the state of Illinois. He played QB in high school, albeit he ran the ball a whole lot. It was speculated he would be a running back at Iowa.

At 6-1, 205 lbs, Evans is listed as a receiver for the Hawkeyes. While I’m glad Iowa is trying a playmaker out at the position, there’s enough skepticism around to think he may not cut it there.

Toks Akinribade, Soph.

Toks has been on campus as long as Young, and even saw some carries as a true freshman in 2016. He took all of 2017 off due to injury. We really don’t know what that injury is, but it’s apparently still dragging out now, to the point where his future with the program is a bit cloudy. He had surgery in December. What kind of surgery? We don’t know. What we do know is his status is unusual within the Iowa football complex and that doesn’t normally spell good things for players.

Kordell Stillmunkes, Freshman

Kordell is a walk-on running back from Cuba City. That’s about all we got.

Fullback bonuses
Brady Ross, RS Jr.

Brady Ross let’s gooooooo.

Brady Ross is going to have to do more than look the part of badass fullback this year. Drake Kulick leaves the Hawkeye program after four fine years of service, opening the door for Ross to pave the way for the aforementioned running backs.

NCAA Football: Miami (Ohio) at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Fullbacks are the unsung heroes of Iowa’s offense. I look forward to singing Ross’ praises.

Lane Akre looks to be the backup fullback. They generally don’t get much action, but if you recall, Ross had to fill in for Kulick after he went down against Nebraska.

2,100 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns from the group above. You heard it here first.