Just one year ago, the Colorado football team was counting on potential to carry the football, but the Buffaloes had almost no experience at running back.
Now, they have experience to go along with what is becoming a fairly deep pool of talent in the backfield.
“I think right now that we have multiple guys that can play and I’m going to do my best to develop them all so they all can get out there and show what they can do,” running backs coach Darian Hagan said in February after CU added two backs on signing day.
Although concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus have created uncertainty about the 2020 football season, CU continues to prepare. BuffZone is previewing each position group for the Buffs. In this installment, we look at the running backs.
When CU signed Ashaad Clayton from Warren Easton (La.) High School and Jayle Stacks from Cherry Creek High School, that was done when previous head coach Mel Tucker was still leading the program. Just a few days later, Tucker bolted for Michigan State, but the emphasis on having talented running backs hasn’t changed for new head coach Karl Dorrell.
Although Dorrell and offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini are both former receivers who want a high-powered passing attack, Dorrell said, “We definitely want to have a run threat and be able to run the football.”
The tools are there to do just that.
In his first season as the starter, Alex Fontenot rushed for 874 yards and five touchdowns. His 79.5 yards per game ranked sixth in the Pac-12 and is second among returning players. Now a junior, he averaged 4.72 yards per attempt last season.
As a true freshman, Jaren Mangham added 441 yards and three touchdowns, ranking 16th in the conference in rushing yards.
CU and Oregon are the only schools in the conference returning two 400-yard rushers.
The Buffs, in fact, didn’t lose any scholarship running backs from last season. Rising sophomore Deion Smith also returns after showing flashes of his talent, with 23 carries for 68 yards.
Two other sophomores are back, as well. Jarek Broussard has a versatile skill set but has yet to get on the field; he missed the 2019 season with a knee injury. Joe Davis played special teams as a true freshman last season, but impressed Hagan with his all-around ability.
While Fontenot and Mangham were the top two backs last year, the talent of Smith, Broussard and Davis will force them to battle for their spots.
“I feel like the competition makes everyone better around us,” Mangham said during the winter. “And I feel like we’ve got a solid room.”
What makes the running back room even more intriguing is the additions of Clayton and Stacks.
Clayton comes to CU as a four-star recruit and his .9284 rating on 247Sports is the highest in CU’s class. In the last eight years, offensive lineman Jake Moretti (2017 class) is the only CU signee with a higher rating.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Clayton rushed for 2,264 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior, including 1,186 yards and 18 touchdowns in five playoff games.
Stacks will join CU as a blueshirt and he will instantly become the Buffs’ biggest running back, at 5-11, 230 pounds. In helping Cherry Creek to the Class 5A state title last year, Stacks rushed for 1,155 yards and 15 touchdowns, while catching 14 passes for 196 yards and five touchdowns.
Hagan acknowledges that if everyone stays healthy, it will be tough to get more than three or four backs on the field, but he also believes the competition for playing time is going to be intense.
“They all say the same stuff, that they want to have competition,” Hagan said. “I always tell them the best people are going to play, but don’t shy away from competition. You’re going to always have competition in your life. Why run from it?”
With a strong group of returners and exceptional young talent joining the mix, CU has perhaps its deepest stable of running backs in at least a decade.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do (at running back),” Hagan said, “I think that we can have a very special year.”
Here’s an initial look at the projected running backs for the 2020 season:
Position: Running backs
Juniors (2019 statistics): Alex Fontenot, 6-feet, 195 pounds (11 starts, 185 att., 874 yards, 5 TD; 27 catches, 122 yards).
Sophomores: Jarek Broussard, 5-9, 180 (redshirted; injured); Joe Davis, 5-11, 210 (6 att., 13 yards); Jaren Mangham, 6-2, 215 (1 start, 107 att., 441 yards, 3 TD; 10 catches, 41 yards); Deion Smith, 6-0, 190 (23 att., 88 yards; 4 catches, 28 yards).
Redshirt freshmen: None.
True freshmen: Ashaad Clayton, 6-0, 200; Jayle Stacks, 5-11, 230.
Players lost: Chase Sanders, 6-0, 195 (walk-on).