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Who Will Run the Ball at UW for Kalen DeBoer?

The rusher by committee approach used by the previous staff wasn't all that effective.
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One of the more confounding deployments of football personnel during the Jimmy Lake/John Donovan era came at running back. Every University of Washington game turned into a backfield tryout. Up to four guys carried the ball on a given Saturday.

While it's highly recommended to keep your backs nimble and fresh, this practice became borderline maniacal at times.

For two seasons, the Huskies couldn't commit to anyone for a long period, even starting all four veteran runners this past season while actually using five different tailbacks overall. 

With new coach Kalen DeBoer taking over, based on what he did with his Fresno State offense, expect him to settle on two main ball carriers to get the UW up and down the field. He'll use them tirelessly, running and receiving, in his high-octane offense. 

Sixth-year seniors Sean McGrew (6 starts) and Kamari Pleasant (1) have used up their eligibility and moved on, while junior Richard Newton (3) is rehabbing from a midseason knee injury and might not be available for some time.

That leaves five returnees to choose from for next season and there's an extremely good chance one or more of them packing the ball next fall will come from Texas, with three Lone Star state runners on the roster.

There's no clearcut favorite, though redshirt freshman Emeka Megwa, who passed up his senior high school season in Texas to graduate and enroll early at the UW, brings the most dazzling recruiting credentials of anyone at his position in a long time. 

While DeBoer likes to put the ball in the air frequently, he'll still need to establish the run — which is something Lake and Donovan couldn't do over two seasons. 

The Huskies, in fact, claim just one 100-yard rusher over the past 19 games covering three seasons, with McGrew getting loose for 104 yards and a pair of scores at Oregon State last October. That's it.

It's been a struggle for the Huskies to pile up a lot of real estate on the ground since all-time leading rusher Myles Gaskin cracked the century mark 26 times over his career in 2015-18 before moving to the NFL. Over the past 29 UW games, or one-fifth of the the time, Salvon Ahmed and McGrew each hit 100 on three occasions.

DeBoer, his offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb and his running-backs coach Lee Marks inherit six scholarship runners. 

Having seen all but one of them carry the ball in Husky practice, we will tell you who they are, what they've done good and bad, and what they're capable of doing moving forward.

Emeka Megwa awaits his turn with the Huskies.

Emeka Megwa passed up his senior high school season to enroll at the UW.

Emeka Megwa

The 6-foot, 210-pound redshirt freshman from Fort Worth, Texas, is the highest regarded running back to come to the UW in some time, possibly since Corey Dillon showed up a quarter century ago from the junior-college ranks or since Napoleon Kaufman or Rich Alexis from high school before that. A 4-star recruit, Megwa chose the Huskies over Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Texas A&M, among nearly 40 offers. He passed up his senior season of Texas high school football after getting injured to enroll early at the UW, took part in two months of practice, dressed for a few games and didn't play. He arrived in Seattle after rushing for more than 3,000 yards and 45 touchdowns in his senior-less schoolboy career. The fan base will be eager to see Megwa, who has 4.5-second 40-yard dash speed, get out and run. He seemingly has that star quality everyone wants. 

Cameron Davis

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The 6-foot, 205-pound sophomore from Upland, California, has two career starts in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl against Boise State and this past season at Colorado. He finished tied for second on the team in rushing with the departed Pleasant, both accumulating a modest 308 yards, 126 fewer than McGrew the leader. He scored twice on short runs, against Arizona and Arizona State. A 4-star recruit, Davis came to the UW with  high school totals of 3,328 yards and 42 touchdowns rushing. Considered an extremely tough player, the previous Husky coaching staff said he could have played linebacker for the Huskies if he wanted. If there was a downside to him, Davis twice fumbled the ball away in critical situations. With Newton laid up, he's the veteran of the bunch and will be in the mix. 

Cam Davis prepares to stiff arm a Stanford defender.

Cam Davis started for the first time in the Apple Cup against WSU.

Richard Newton

A physical runner, everything looked so promising when this past season began for the 6-foot, 215-pound junior from Lancaster, California. He looked buff and determined in practice. He was the starter for the first time, opening against Montana, Michigan and Arkansas State. Then he got banged up and missed a pair of games. Inserted against UCLA, he lasted one fateful play, catching a 9-yard pass and blowing his knee all at once. He finished the season with a mere 139 yards rushing and scored once against Arkansas State, which should have been a good day's work not season totals. As a redshirt freshman, Newton seemed to be headed for stardom after he came off the bench and scored 11 times, 10 by rushing, and threw a touchdown pass against Boise State in the 2019 Las Vegas Bowl. In 2020, he appeared in just two games, breaking a 54-yard touchdown run against Arizona, before he went crosshairs with Lake's staff and was unused for the other two games. A 3-star recruit, Newton ran for more than 2,500 yards in high school, with a high game of 294 yards. He might not be ready when next season begins. He remains a question mark.

Richard Newton gets gang-tackled by Arkansas State.

Richard Newton started three times in 2021, including against Arkansas State. 

Jay'Veon Sunday

Everybody needs a flamboyant running back in the mix and the 6-foot, 195-pound redshirt freshman from Waco, Texas, is all of that. Sunday was one of the spring story lines last year when he came out and purposely drew attention to himself by high-stepping, finger-waving and repeatedly trying to run over guys in practice. Veterans such as NFL-bound cornerback Trent McDuffie felt the need to let him know he had to tone things down by knocking Sunday on his backside. Preserving his four years of eligibility, the young Texan played briefly against Arkansas State, Arizona State, Colorado and Washington State, and picked up just 12 yards on 8 carries. That's a start. He arrived at Washington after gaining more than 5,000 yards and scoring 80 touchdowns in his high school career, the most rushing stats of any of the backs. Sunday was a 3-star recruit whose top offers came from Arkansas and Baylor besides UW. He could be on the verge of extended game time.

Caleb Berry

At 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, this redshirt freshman runner from Lufkin, Texas, is the biggest of the Husky backs and a power runner. Berry broke the fibula in his right leg during the sixth game of his senior year in 2020 when a defender hit him from the side and fell on him. Somehow, he recovered in time to take part in UW spring practice six months later. Berry was used gingerly by the Huskies once they welcomed him to town by running just 5 times for 13 yards in the spring game, before not appearing in a game and redshirting during this past regular season. He accumulated more than 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns rushing over his shortened final two seasons at Lufkin. Besides the UW, the 3-star recruit was noticeably pursued by Arkansas, Houston, Nebraska and Texas Tech. He should be fully healthy now and ready to show what he can do.

Sam Adams runs through a UW drill.

Sam Adams could be a tailback or cornerback. 

Sam Adams II

The son and grandson of NFL players who are his namesakes, Adams missed nearly all of this past season with a shoulder injury. Prior to that, he got off to a slow start and trailed all of the other scholarship backs on the depth chart. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound redshirt freshman from Kirkland, Washington, came to the UW as a 4-star recruit, yet as an athlete because he was equally well regarded as a tailback and a cornerback. Among 40-plus offers, he turned down schools such as Alabama, Ohio State, Florida, Texas A&M, Florida State and Michigan. With a surplus of runners and a shortage of corners, the Huskies might consider moving him to defense to accelerate his use. Yet he rushed for 1,738 yards and scored 42 touchdowns as a high school player. Lake was convinced that Adams was a running back. It will be interesting to see what DeBoer thinks. 

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