In a bit of serendipity, Ohio State whiffing on its top running back targets in the last cycle could end up opening the door for the program to land two of its highest-priority backs in the 2021 class. With the Buckeyes badly needing two running backs in this class, three of their top targets all having similar mindsets is a great helping hand in that pursuit.
Donovan Edwards is firmly on record that he wants to be part of a two-back system in college, TreVeyon Henderson is hoping for that as well, and Evan Pryor says playing with another back is “a huge part of something I wanna do.”
All three want to be “the guy.” They just want there to be another guy present in the same backfield because it can help them fulfill lifelong dreams. Even if it’s another high-ranked running back.
The key reason why?
So many of the recruits we’ve talked to over the past few months have dreams of reaching the NFL. They dream of making the money to take care of their loved ones – “retire my family,” as Jaxon Smith-Njigba told us.
With the short shelf life a running back in the NFL already has, if they want to earn the one of the highest-achievable prizes, financially speaking, that the NFL offers – a second contract – the preparation begins now while they’re teenagers.
“The second contract, I think about every day,” Edwards said.
Edwards has been doing his research for a while about how he can save his body. He’s looked up stats on former running backs at schools like Georgia, Ohio State, LSU, Auburn, Alabama, Michigan and others, and he’s seen how there can be a positive effect when multiple backs are used.
“I look up Sony Michel from Georgia – what he did; how many carries he had,” Edwards said. “It was at the point where it was him, Nick Chubb and D'Andre Swift all together. It was like, ‘Dang, you can have all these great running backs together who all went top three rounds in the draft together?’”
All three have done research on former college football players who carried the ball too often before reaching the NFL, and they understand the negative effects they had – Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne, Penn State’s Larry Johnson, Ohio State’s Beanie Wells and Michigan’s Mike Hart and Chris Perry are a handful of the players Edwards and his head coach, Ron Bellamy, cited as others Edwards has researched.
So, too, is Bellamy’s brother-in-law, Tim Biakabutuka, who was a running back at Michigan and “is a prime example of having a great college career but just having the injuries of a Big Ten running back,” Bellamy said.
“The old school Big Ten football, he doesn't necessarily want that,” Bellamy said. “He's a smart kid where he does his research. He's looked at some of the past backs and their amount of carries in college and you get to the NFL, their production is not what it is because they’re run down from their collegiate career. They have this decorated collegiate career, but their NFL career does not match the collegiate career.”
So one of the best solutions to that? An obvious one ... a two-back system. And that’s what I’m trying to make clear here as to why the Buckeyes’ goal of bringing in two highly rated running backs is a realistic goal and one that these recruits see as attractive.
“Tre’s a kid who’s interested in going somewhere that plays multiple backs and not just somewhere where he has to be the only guy to carry the ball,” Henderson’s head coach at Hopewell (Va.) High School, Richard Irby, told Eleven Warriors.
It might seem unattractive on the surface until you dig deeper into these guys’ lifelong dreams, and if it means “sacrificing” carries in college, well, it’s actually not a sacrifice at all.
“They wanna take two. It’s not something that runs me away,” Pryor told Eleven Warriors. “It’s actually something that attracts me more; the two-back system. … It’ll definitely help me in the long run because you wanna get to that second contract – like you mentioned earlier. That’s a huge part of something I wanna do. Not burning my tires out in college would be huge.”
That’s what needs to be made clear here: bringing in two running backs in the same class is not as unattractive of an option for many of these players as you might initially think. As long as there’s a firm plan in place.
“They wanna take two (running backs). It’s not something that runs me away. It’s actually something that attracts me more.”– Ohio State running back target Evan Pryor
If Ryan Day and Tony Alford — and with the receiving skill sets of their highest targets to keep in mind, Brian Hartline is just as much in the mix with those guys — have a concrete blueprint that they can present to these guys, then bringing in two high-ranked backs isn’t out of the question.
“I think I’d fit in very well. I think I’d fit in with any type of system, but the two-back system works just as well as any other one,” Pryor said. “You’d just be more fresh in a two-back system than you would in a single-back look. If anything, it would help me.
“It’s something I can see. I see myself in the backfield with Donovan. I see myself in the backfield with any other back. You never know who it could work out with. But I do see us looking out for each other and keeping our fresh legs. I feel like we’re two of the best backs in the country and looking out for each other would be huge and help the Buckeyes out a lot – or anybody.”
These guys need the platform to show what they can do. They need to be used a lot but not too much. That’s obviously a fine line to play for the Buckeye coaches. But, hell, Gene Smith backed up the Brinks truck for Day last month, and this is the kind of thing that Day is being paid millions of dollars to figure out.
Luckily for him, each of those three running backs are making it easier for him.