As a true freshman last year, Colorado’s Jaren Mangham learned that the easiest part of playing running back in college was running with the ball.
When he got the ball last year, he did quite well, finishing second on the team with 441 yards and three touchdowns. In the nearly 11 months since that season came to a close, Mangham has focused on every other aspect of the position.
“I’ve just studied more, (worked on) pass blocking – just kind of like learning the game a lot more, going more in depth,” he said, “focusing on the mental aspect and not as much as the physical aspect, because I know I can perform from the physical standpoint.”
Head coach Karl Dorrell goes into his first season with the Buffaloes knowing he’s got plenty of weapons to use in the backfield, including Mangham and last year’s leading rusher, Alex Fontenot.
“It’s definitely a great luxury to have the depth that we have right now,” Dorrell said.
At the top of the list is Fontenot. As a sophomore last year, he rushed for 874 yards and five touchdowns, while catching 27 passes for 122 yards.
Throughout his career, Dorrell said he’s been in situations where the offense has a lead back and others where it was a back-by-committee.
The plan, at least for now, is for Fontenot to lead the way.
“Alex Fontenot is obviously our veteran player,” Dorrell said. “He’s done a really nice job. If anyone has the biggest piece of the pie, he may have the biggest piece, but I think with the other guys that are actually having really good camps as well, they’re going to get some smaller slivers of the pie, too.
“I won’t say it’s by committee. … I think we have a guy that we think is the guy and then we have a few guys that we feel that they can be a hot hand for us. That’s kind of how I’ve usually done the second guy, that he comes off the bench and if he’s the hot hand, you kind of give him more plays or more chances.”
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Mangham is hopeful of being the hot hand and getting much more than a sliver of the pie. Last year, Mangham got 33.3 percent of the running back carries, compared to 57.6 for Fontenot.
Becoming a more complete running back could lead to more carries.
“Obviously the experience helped me out tremendously,” Mangham said of playing as a true freshman last year. “I’m picking up blitzes a lot faster. I’m obviously focusing on the little details. As a true freshman, your head is kind of just like all over the place and you’re just trying to do everything right.
“Now I’m kind of more like, I know what I’ve got to do. I know the job that I’ve got to accomplish, so everything is happening a lot faster, a lot more consistent, and I’m just doing a lot better. I feel like I have shown tremendous growth from my first year to now, so I’m happy about that.”
An important factor in his growth, he said, was having Dorrell retain running backs coach Darian Hagan, who enters his fifth season on the job.
“Coach Hagan has been doing a tremendous job of keeping all of us focused and just keeping our head on the right path,” he said.
Mangham’s father, Jesse, and brother, Jaden, helped him this offseason, too. During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when most players went home, Mangham was back in the Detroit area. His father and brother – a three-star recruit from the class of 2022 with 27 offers, including from CU – kept Mangham going.
“My dad played a big part in that,” he said. “He kept me motivated by keeping me working out, making me move and do stuff like that. Also I was getting work with my little brother. We’d just go up to the field and get work as much as possible. If we couldn’t go to the field, if it was shut down or something like that, we’d do our own workout.”
Now, Mangham is again working with his fellow backs at CU, and he’s excited about the talent in the room. In addition to Fontenot and Mangham, the Buffs have sophomores Jarek Broussard and Joe Davis and true freshmen Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks fighting for a slice of the pie. (Sophomore Deion Smith is likely out for the season with a knee injury.)
“We have a lot of good running backs,” Mangham said. “A lot of the great teams need multiple, good backs that can come in. As a college football team and as a program, you want to have fresh backs. We’re just focusing up and we’re just going to keep working.”