Backfield boasts an experienced 3-headed monster

Aug. 13, 2007

Editor’s Note — Iowa Football Camp Central inside hawkeyesportscom will provide avid Hawkeye football fans an exclusive inside peek at the preseason practice of the 2007 Iowa squad. The site will contain articles, photographs and notes on the progress of the Hawkeyes as they prepare for the season opener Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

IOWA CITY — Here’s a preseason trivia question from the Kenyon Practice Complex: “What has three heads and in three years has covered 3,271 yards by land and 797 yards by air?”

The answer? The three-headed offensive backfield combination of University of Iowa seniors Tom Busch (Cottage Grove, Minn./Park), Damian Sims (Boyton Beach, Fla./John I Leonard) and Albert Young (Moorestown, N.J./Moorestown).

Defenses lining across from the Hawkeyes this fall already know the scouting report. They’re going to take a physical pounding compliment of fullback Busch and then they’re going to have to try and corral the speedy and elusive halfbacks Sims and Young.

“It’s pretty obvious when you have senior players who have played, that makes everybody’s job a little bit easier,” said running backs coach Carl Jackson. “They know the offense back and forth. All these guys have played and made plays in big games and I feel fortunate to have them on our side.”

Busch, at 5-foot-11, 235-pounds, moved from linebacker to fullback during the 2004 spring practice. Utilized more for his receiving skills, Busch has rushed for 61 yards and a touchdown and has caught 18 passes for 140 yards and three scores during his career.

“Tom Busch is kind off in the mold of an Edgar Cervantes,” Jackson said. “He’s probably as tough a player as we have on our team. He’s probably as tough a fullback as we’ve had. He can catch the ball and spends a lot of time working on the Jugs machine catching the ball every day. Tom is a tough guy and a good team leader. He’s a good, tough hard-nosed football player.”

When he’s not slithering out of the backfield for a pass reception or bulling his way for short-yardage, Busch can be found protecting the quarterback or opening holes for Sims and Young. Sims is 5-9, 200 and owns career rushing totals of 1,005 yards on 179 carries (5.6 average) with 10 touchdowns and a long of 71 (vs. Minnesota on Nov. 19, 2005). He has been on the receiving end of 15 passes for 164 yards (10.9) with a long of 35 (vs. Wisconsin on Nov. 11, 2006). Young is 5-10, 209 and of the group, he owns the majority of the offensive numbers. Young has run the ball 454 times for 2,205 yards (4.9) and 17 touchdowns in his career and he has also caught 56 passes for 493 yards (8.8) and one touchdown.

“It’s pretty obvious when you have senior players who have played, that makes everybody’s job a little bit easier. They know the offense back and forth. All these guys have played and made plays in big games and I feel fortunate to have them on our side.”
UI Coach Carl Jackson

“Albert and Damian are very similar players,” Jackson said. “Both are excellent runners and they do a good job of blocking. Both can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. They compare very favorably with some of the better backs we’ve had here.”

Hawkeye fans remember the stunning accomplishments of Fred Russell, Laddell Betts, Tavian Banks and Sedrick Shaw. Betts led Iowa in rushing four consecutive seasons — the only Hawkeye ever to accomplish that feat. Young has been the teams’ leading rushing in 2005 (1,334 yards) and 2006 (779). Only Silas McKinnie (1965-67), Jon Lazar (1976-78) and Shaw (1994-96) have paced the Hawkeyes on the ground for three consecutive years.

The strength and experience in the backfield should alleviate much of the pressure from Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen.

“We don’t have to depend on Jake to win games for us,” Jackson said. “We want him to manage the game. We should be so balanced with our run game and passing game that it should make it a little bit easier for him.”

With seniors at fullback and running back, that should allow the younger, less experienced backs in the program an opportunity to grow at a slower pace. But that doesn’t mean the cupboard is bare in the Iowa backfield. Far from it.

“We have three or four guys waiting in the wings,” Jackson said. “Paki O’Meara (Cedar Rapids/Washington) is a redshirt freshman. Jayme Murphy (Dubuque/Senior) is a redshirt freshman. Dana Brown (Clairton, Penn./Clairton) is a sophomore and Jevon Pugh (Naples, Fla./Naples) is a true freshman. We have them all in the mix and we’ve got them working. Out of that group we’ll come up with our third running back.”

Jackson, who is in this 22nd year on the Iowa coaching staff, begins his ninth season as running backs coach since re-joining the Hawkeyes in 1999. He has mentored the likes of Dennis Mosley, Nick Bell, Ronnie Harmon and Tony Stewart. At the University of Texas he coached NCAA rushing and scoring leader Ricky Williams. Now he is assisting and elevating the games of a talented trio of Hawkeyes ready to embark on their final season.

“I’m happy I’ve had a chance to coach these three young men,” Jackson said. “Aside from being good football players, they’re great team leaders and they’re great people.”

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