In an era of college football when the transfer portal often dominates offseason discussions, developing and maintaining depth at individual positions has never been more challenging for coaches.
At the running back position, specifically, the old adage of having a “pair and a spare” in terms of quality, game-ready ball carriers has become increasingly difficult to attain as fewer running backs are willing to wait their turn with only so many carries to go around.
That truth makes Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford’s abundance of riches this season a rarity as he prepares to take as many as five proven backs into the 2023 campaign. TreVeyon Henderson has returned to full strength after an injury-riddled 2022 season, and paired with Miyan Williams, figures to give Ohio State one of the best combinations at the position in all of college football.
Behind that duo, Dallan Hayden enters his sophomore season after making the most of valuable playing time down the stretch a year ago, and Chip Trayanum remains in the running for carries after being Ohio State’s leading rusher against Michigan last season. Factor in the return of Evan Pryor after he missed all of last season with a patellar tendon tear and the Ohio State running backs room will feature five players who would be firmly in the mix to start at nearly every other program in the country.
That none of the five running backs opted to transfer during the offseason even surprised Alford in some ways, although he noted their decisions to stay in Columbus came with strong convictions.
“To some regard, I could probably say, ‘Yeah,’” Alford said on Saturday when asked if he was surprised they all stayed. “But I also think it comes back to the brotherhood, comes back to the love for one another that they have. And I know it may sound cliche but it’s real. Why do I say it’s real? Because they’re all still here.
“It has nothing to do with Tony Alford and the coach. It has everything to do with the love for one another in that room. We talk about that brotherhood here a lot, but it’s real and that’s a testament to it because they all had opportunities to go do other things in other facets. But they all decided to stay together as a unit and stay bonded, and that’s a testament to the type of kids we have in that room and in the locker room.”
Also working in Alford’s favor this offseason was the revolving door the position became last season as Henderson and Williams both spent significant time on the injury report. With Pryor already lost for the season, Alford was forced to turn to a true freshman in Hayden and a converted linebacker in Trayanum to serve as Ohio State’s primary ball carriers late in the season.
Few, if any, could have predicted Hayden or Trayanum being relied upon heavily in meaningful games, but it served to underscore the value of being ready at a moment’s notice.
“They see that. I don’t need to say anything. They know that everyone is going to have an opportunity,” Alford said of the lessons learned from last year. “Now, the key component is does your opportunity come exactly when you want it. But if you just stay the course —and I think that’s the important thing in life — you’ll get what’s coming your way. The problem is everybody wants things right now. They want instantaneous success, instantaneous whatever it is. I just think it’s a testament to say, ‘Just keep grinding, just keep playing and do your job to its fullest and be the best version of yourself every day, and when your time comes, you’ll be ready to go.’”
Alford also knows having so many capable bodies in the room should bring out the best in each individual given the constant push for playing time.
“Competition makes everybody better because you know that if you don’t do the job, the next guy coming in is very, very capable of doing the job,” he said. “Those repetitions matter, and what you put on tape is what it is. So if you’re making mistakes and you’re not doing well, and the next guy is doing well, then there are your opportunities.”
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.