Utah emerging as RBU of the West Coast

Ryan Kostecka

Over the past six years, Utah's running backs have dominated the Pac-12 conference. Each season, the Utes have had a man from the backfield rush over the coveted 1,000-yards for a season.

Beginning with Devontae Booker (now with the Oakland Raiders) in 2014 and '15, next with Joe Williams (drafted by the San Francisco 49ers) in the 2016 season and followed up by Zack Moss (drafted by the Buffalo Bills) from 2017-2019.

What running backs coach Kiel McDonald has done for the Utes is somewhat unprecedented for the program — and even more so considering he's taken mediocre high school prospects and turned them into college stars and NFL players.

Booker, out of Grant High School in Sacramento, Calif., attended American River Junior College from 2011-2013. Rated as a three-star prospect, Booker transferred to Utah where he split time with Bubba Poole in 2014 as a junior.

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He quickly emerged as the lead back, starting in nine of 13 games and finishing the season with 1,512 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns. His senior season started out with a bang, as he rushed for 1,261 yards and 11 touchdowns in the first 10 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Williams was originally committed to the University of Connecticut before quickly transferring to ASA College. He then committed to Utah as a two-star prospect, and had an interesting road to the field. But once on the field, he rushed for 1,407 yards and 10 touchdowns in just nine games during the 2016 season.

Moss is the latest great running back to don a Utah uniform, being a three-year starter from 2017-19 and having the greatest career ever by a Utah running back.

A three-star running back from Florida, Moss saw action as a freshman behind Williams before emerging as a sophomore into the lead role — finishing with 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

Through nine games during his junior year, Moss was on an absolute tear by averaging 121.8 rushing yards per game and 11 touchdowns on the season. That average would've placed Moss sixth in the nation that year for rushing yards per game.

He was on a particular tear in his final six games, all against Pac-12 competition, by averaging 134.8 rushing yards per game and eight touchdowns — which would've made him fourth in the nation.

Those numbers, combined with Moss' exceptional talent surely would've gotten him looks in the 2019 NFL draft as a potential first or second-rounder if he was to declare early. It would've been a smart decision considering how high his stock was and he wouldn't have had to worry about another year's worth of wear and tear on his body.

Alas, that wasn't the plan for Moss.

A knee injury suffered through a freak accident climbing into bed resulted in season-ending surgery — thus setting the stage for Moss' return.

Following that return, as a senior Moss had the best season by a Utah running back in program history. He ran for 1,416 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to being named Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and a second-team AP All-American.

Altogether, McDonald has produced great running backs out of subpar positional ranking recruiting — so it begs the question as to who will look to continue the tradition of the new 'RBU' of the West Coast.

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