By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — First-year University of Iowa assistant coach Derrick Foster has an opportunity to get to know the Hawkeyes’ running backs this spring… one by one by one by one.
Iowa’s running back room consists of just four players — redshirt sophomore Toren Young, sophomores Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toks Akinribade, and redshirt freshman Kyshaun Bryan. Akinribade is not practicing because he is recovering from injury.
“It’s our job as coaches to teach these young men how to play the game and how to practice,” Foster said during a news conference Tuesday inside the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center. “That was one of the main emphasis going into spring camp. These guys understand their role on this team.”
Gone is Akrum Wadley and his 1,109 yards and 10 touchdowns. Gone is James Butler, who rushed for 396 yards in nine games. Young is Iowa’s top returnee, rushing for 193 yards on 45 attempts and scoring two touchdowns.
The group returns 410 career rushing yards and five touchdowns. Iowa has 81 combined carries at the running back position.
Young is the leader as Iowa’s bruiser, a LeShun Daniels, Jr., type. Kelly-Martin is more like Wadley, a quick, elusive runner.
“Both of those guys give great effort and their attitudes are phenomenal,” said Foster. “They come in every day ready to go to work. Those are the two guys I can use as an example.
“They have been consistent and have helped the younger guys come around. Toren, being the leader of the room, I’ll lean on him a lot to manage the room as a player. I try to give those guys some accountability, and (Toren) is the guy I look to take the role with full accountability.”
Although Young is just in his third year on campus, Foster says the Wisconsin native is ahead of his years.
“He’s a mature young man who leads by example, who is vocal,” said Foster. “Those are things he prides himself on and we see in him. Toren sets an example, not only on the field, but in the weight room and outside of football in the classroom.
“Those guys look as Toren as a big brother-type leader because they know he has more experience than they do.”
Bryan, a redshirt freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, has shown flashes this spring. Foster says the key for Bryan is to continue building on the good.
“He took strides and shows flashes of what he can do,” said Foster. “He has to continue to develop in that role. That’s one of the things I challenged him with: can you stack days on top of days? He certainly has the ability.”
Foster is intrigued with incoming freshmen Henry Geil (Green Bay, Wisconsin) and Samson Evans (Crystal Lake, Illinois). Geil ran for 1,335 yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior; Evans was the Illinois Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior and rushed for 6,386 yards in his career.
“I am looking forward to those guys coming in and adding depth,” said Foster. “They have talented skill sets. Not being here long, they’re going to have to come in and earn their reps. I look forward to the fall to see what they’re able to add.
“As freshmen, it’s hard. You take a high school kid and put them in a college environment and the pace of play changes drastically. I look for those guys to be willing to learn.”
Iowa’s Spring Game will be April 20 inside Kinnick Stadium.