John Hubert started 36 of the last 38 games at running back for Kansas State.
Now, it’s anybody’s guess as to who will get the first shot to replace the second-leading rusher in school history and starter the last three years when the Wildcats open the season in August.
Three inexperienced running backs are fighting for the job this spring — including senior DeMarcus Robinson and sophomores Jarvis Leverett and Charles Jones.
“We’re all learning from each other,” Leverett said last week. “That’s one of the things I like about what we’re doing now. If I make a mistake, I tell Charles, ‘make sure you don’t make the same mistake,’ and vice versa. It’s the same with DeMarcus Robinson.”
Robinson, a former four-star recruit from Wichita Northwest, is the only one of the three who has even played and even that was limited, as the 5-foot-7, 209-pounder got in just three games last season, totaling 20 yards on five carries.
“DeMarcus is at the top of the chart because he came out of that position from the fall, but I think we see some promise in the two younger guys,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “It really will be a genuine competition between the three.”
Jones and Leverett both redshirted during the 2012 season, but neither saw the field a year ago. Robinson was the No. 3 running back behind Robert Rose.
Snyder said it is too early to know how to define the running styles of Jones and Leverett, but that both have made strides this spring — which culminates this Saturday with the annual spring game at Bill Snyder Family Stadium at 1 p.m.
“I just can’t quite distinguish one has a certain style and the other one has a certain style,” he said. “There are certain things I maybe have some insight to, but I’m not altogether certain about it.
“Both of them are starting to become more aggressive runners. Both of them have the ability to have good movement in their ball-carrying talents… the capacity to make people miss.”
Leverett, who battled an injury last season, earned the team’s Red Raider Award as the top contributor on the scout team during his redshirt season. The 5-11, 203-pounder from Katy, Texas, said that season is a big reason why he’s competing for a starting spot today.
Part of that learning process for Leverett was about doing all the other things running backs are required to do at K-State, besides run the football.
“I always took scout team seriously because I knew one day I’d be here fighting for a starting spot,” said Leverett, who was rated as the eighth-best running back out of Texas by the Houston Chronicle. “As a running back, I wanted to learn how to pass block because when I was in high school I’d just get the ball and just go. Pass blocking was one of those things I didn’t know how to do well, so when I was scout team I’d always try to work on fundamentals.
“Some people are like, ‘it’s just scout team,’ but I really tried to use it to get better, and it’s paying off now.”
There’s a good chance the running back that proves more proficient at doing all those other things well is one that will win the starting job.
“You have to be able to protect the quarterback and take on those linebackers,” said the 5-10, 197-pound Jones, who rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns as senior at Mandeville (La.) High.
One guy who knows a little about taking on linebackers is returning fullback Glenn Gronkowski. The sophomore-to-be played in 13 games last season and earned All-Big 12 Honorable Mention. Primarily a blocker, Gronkowski did emerge as a viable threat in the passing game, however, finishing with five catches for 194 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s still fighting the consistency element of his progression,” Snyder said. “He’s proven a lot and we’re trying to put some weight on him to play that position. He’s a very athletic young man and he’s gaining a greater understanding of what we do.
“Playing as a young pup as he did last year, you weren’t always sure if he was on the right side of the formation or knew if we were going left or right. He’s gaining more in terms of his understanding of what it is that we do — now it is being able to process that information. I think that he will be diligent about that.”