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Spring Spotlight: Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott

Ezekiel Elliott shone in his first year at Ohio State, and now the starting role could be his. (Cal Sport Media via AP)

Ezekiel Elliott shined in his first season with the Buckeyes, and now the starting role could be his.

With Carlos Hyde leading the way, Ohio State's rushing offense led the country with 6.8 yards per carry in 2013. This spring, the Buckeyes will begin the competition to replace the departed tailback. The list of candidates vying for the starting job is long, but one name in particular could ascend to the top after just a single season in Columbus.

Rising sophomore tailback Ezekiel Elliott is a name that Ohio State fans should keep track of as spring practice unfolds. Elliott, the Buckeyes' top returning running back, rushed 30 times for 262 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2013. His 8.7 yards-per-carry average was tops among the six Ohio State players who had at least 30 rushing attempts.

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Elliott played in seven games last season, breaking out in the Buckeyes' 76-0 rout of Florida A&M on Sept. 21. Against the Rattlers, he carried the ball 14 times for 162 yards (11.4 yards per rush) and two scores, which came on 13- and 16-yard runs. Florida A&M hardly boasted a Big Ten-caliber defense, but fans still caught a glimpse of Elliott's efficiency with the football on each carry, including on a 54-yard scamper in the third quarter.

Elliott came to Ohio State as a four-star running back out of John Burroughs High in St. Louis. His recruitment was unique in that Elliott's visit to Columbus included a meeting with then-president Gordon Gee. Gee made a connection with Elliott's father, Stacy, who was a defensive back at Missouri in the early 1990s. Per the Akron Beacon Journal:

Ezekiel Elliott, a four-star running back from St. Louis rated by as Missouri’s top prospect in the 2013 class, said he visited 10 schools — including Notre Dame, Arkansas, and Missouri. But it was only at Ohio State where his itinerary included a visit with the university president.

Elliott said Gee and his father, Stacy, spoke like old friends about their connection to the infamous “Fifth Down Game,” a 1990 game between Colorado and Missouri in which officials mistakenly allowed the Buffaloes a fifth down that produced the winning touchdown as time expired. Gee was then president of Colorado; Stacy Elliott a defensive back for Missouri.

Elliott rolled up 3,061 all-purpose yards and had a hand in 50 total touchdowns as a senior at John Burroughs. He also won state titles in four different track and field events during his final high school season. Now Elliott might be the leader in a running back competition that includes rising senior Rod Smith and rising sophomore Bri'onte Dunn. Elliott hasn't grabbed the starting job by the horns just yet, but all indications point to the role being his to lose.

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