Maryland Football’s Running Back Room Confident With Pass Protection A Focus

Maryland’s offense doesn’t have many questions heading into the season, but the running back room draws intrigue with multiple underclassmen pitching in to create a more balanced approach. The confidence in the talent in the room hasn’t wavered since the start of fall camp, though.

“On paper, you may say, not a lot of experience in the room but boy we’re really excited about the job that coach Elijah Brooks has done with that group and their culture and the way they work and prepare and the talent level in that room,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said ahead of camp. The young trio of local backs knows they’ve got shoes to fill with running back Challen Faamatau sidelined and Tayon Fleet-Davis off the Kansas City to begin his NFL career, but they’ve answered the call so far as they’ve pushed each other.

“I feel like we’re all competing and we’re lifting each other up. I know a lot of times, we get down because they think that we’re young and they think that we’re inexperienced but we’re ready to step up to the plate and make it happen for our guys,” redshirt freshman Roman Hemby added. Maryland finished tenth in the Big Ten last season in rushing yards per game and the lone underclassman to play more than four games was Colby McDonald. The former St. John’s product proved to be an efficient runner in between the tackles but he’s seen his game elevate in pass protection so far.

“Pass protection reads for sure. Learning the defense because we know every play pre-snap most of the time is mental. So, you read the defense, you basically know where you’re gonna run the ball, like knowing we’re going puncture on cuts and everything like that.” McDonald added that the room liked “big plays, like 60-plus [yards], like home-run plays” one season ago but that’s a void that Hemby can fill with his top-end speed. “I feel like the biggest stride that I took in my game was, you know, just familiarizing myself and being confident. You know, we’re gonna make mistakes but I think bouncing back and getting back to neutral like coach says is something that I worked on.”

The biggest success story in the room, and arguably on the roster, is redshirt freshman Antwain Littleton who is down over 40 pounds from one season ago. “There was definitely some mental times where I wanted to quit or was even asking myself ‘is this even for me?’ But I knew at the end of the day that there was a bigger goal. It wasn’t just about me. It was about the team as well and overall, I just loved playing football.”

Littleton’s consistency off the field helped him reform his body into the running back that possesses a blend of size and speed in Maryland’s 2022 running back room and he credits the offseason work to get him to this point. “Training, running and especially with me eating right and things like that. I knew all of those things was gonna contribute to me being a good player on the team and me being able to contribute to the team and help winning games.”

With the unit’s goals set for the 2022 season and the young backs “treating the film room like it’s a classroom, Littleton emphasized that, “just staying in the playbook” between now and September 3 is the focus.

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“Pass protection’s gonna be a number one thing for us, especially since we’re a young running back group. It usually it takes a little while for a running back to especially coming in as a freshman. It takes a little while for you to get used to the pass protection and seeing things, how it flows on the field and things like that. But we’ve done a great job during the offseason and during camp to be able to recognize all those things and coach [Elijah] Brooks, he definitely prepares us right week in and week out for any opponent that we’re going against.”

The trio of backs returning this season balance each other out and that’s helped create healthy competition through the midway point of camp. “Versatility, we got big backs. We got backs that can run great routes, we got backs that can do a little bit of everything and we all work together. So, when it comes to contributing to the team, especially in the Big Ten, we want to win football games.”

Veteran running back Challen Faamatau may not return to the field until conference play as he battles back from his injury suffered during the spring game, but he’s helped guide the younger room and bolster their confidence. “Challen good for sure because he’s been here for a while, so he knows everything we’re going through so he knows we could ask him for anything. Like even stuff we don’t want him to feel comfortable asking a coach, we could ask Challen and Challen will give us the answer every time. And Challen, he knows this offense [like the] front, the back of his hand,” McDonald added.

As Faamatau leads the group, the trio of young returning running backs is also helping freshman Ramon Brown through his first fall camp and they’ve been impressive thus far. “I know plays is hard. I know like when you’re coming in and it’s a lot to like go over, but…he’s getting the stuff fast and he knows his stuff and he’s definitely, he’s putting in work. He’s coming in every day, he’s working hard,” McDonald added.

Two redshirts, freshmen and a sophomore so we’re younger as well, but we’ve taught ourselves to have good tendencies, as far as having those tendencies as being a veteran back. Being on time, making sure you’re everywhere you’re supposed to be, making sure you’re in a playbook studying all your plays. He just been really like just watching us and see how we maneuver, and he’s just really picked up on it very well. I’m actually excited to see him ball this year.”

Maryland kicks off the season on September 3 at Maryland Stadium vs. Buffalo.

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