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2018 UCLA Football Fall Preview: Developing the Running Backs

While the UCLA running backs have both ends of the spectrum on experience, a new offense and infusion of talent will be exactly what the Bruins need.

NCAA Football: Oregon at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

One major area of complaint from many Bruin fans the past few year has been the underproduction of the running backs unit. Two years ago, the running game was the worst in the country. DeShaun Foster returned to help the running backs and the offensive line started to improve under then offensive line coach Hank Fraley, but the running game was still 115th in the nation.

Fast forward to 2018, and you have a position coach with a year under his belt, a new offensive line coach that has a history of success, and an addition to the running backs unit that I’m personally very excited about. Add that to Chip Kelly’s spread offense and you have a recipe for success.”

Who’s Gone?

Let’s first take a look at the losses from 2017. There are a total of five running backs that will not be returning from 2017. Nate Starks, Justin Rittman, Giovanni Gentosi and Zachary Byrge have all graduated from the program, with Starks suffering a season ending injury last year that caused him to miss most of his senior season. Jalen Starks announced his transfer from UCLA last March, but it’s also worth noting that he was not present on the sideline last December when UCLA played Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl. Nate Starks averaged over four yards per carry last year, so it would have been nice to see him complete his senior season. Jalen was right behind him with 3.9 yards per carry, but I have no fear that the production of these two individuals will be easily replaced by the talent coming in.

Who’s Back?

Household names and seniors Soso Jamabo and Bolu Olorunfunmi were the top producers last year, and will definitely be at the top of the depth chart again this year. Jamabo and Olorunfunmi accounted for a majority of the reps in 2017, with junior Brandon Stephens adding to the mix. Stephens will be a solid reliever, bringing more in-game experience to the position that this group needs. Josh Kelley, a 2017 transfer from UC Davis, should see playing time this year as he did not see the field last year. At Davis, he ranked No. 26 in the nation in kickoff returns and No. 57 in the nation in all purpose yards (107.18 per game), so he will definitely have something to contribute to the running backs unit this year. Cole Kinder, a redshirt freshman out of Newport Harbor High School will also suit up for the first time, and may be a hidden gem in this group. He was a solid running back and punt returner in high school, and produced 1,900 yards in 10 games his senior year. He came to UCLA as a preferred walk-on, and also had an offer from Tennessee.

Who’s New?

The true freshmen are Kazmeir Allen, Martell Irby and Kenroy Higgins II. Irby ran for 1,729 yards and 22 touchdowns as a junior at San Diego’s Morse High School last year, and was flipped by UCLA after previously committing to Arizona (it is also worth noting that this guy is extremely smart, with additional offers from Columbia and Dartmouth). He could prove to be a future starter with elusive moves that are hard to stop. Meanwhile, Higgins played in 12 games as a senior and had 188 yards on 44 carries his senior year.

But I have to admit, I’m most excited about Kazmeir Allen. His speed will be a breath of fresh air to the backfield, and if you want proof of his quickness, check out his stats. He won the California state championship in the 100-meter dash at a mind-boggling speed of 10.44 seconds, and had an absolutely ridiculous senior season in football. He amassed 3,336 yards and 62 touchdowns (yes, 62) with a grand total of 6,276 yards and 102 touchdowns in high school. If this doesn’t get you excited for next year, I don’t know what will!

Here is the 2018 running backs roster.

2018 UCLA Football Running Backs Roster

# Player name Position Height Weight Year
# Player name Position Height Weight Year
1 Soso Jamabo RB 6-2 212 Sr.
4 Bolu Olorunfunmi RB 5-10 222 Sr.
19 Kazmeir Allen RB 5-8 175 Fr.
20 Brandon Stephens RB 6-0 206 Jr.
22 Kenroy Higgins II RB 6-0 165 Fr.
26 Martell Irby RB 5-8 200 Fr.
27 Joshua Kelley RB 5-11 204 R-Jr.
28 Cole Kinder RB 6-0 196 R-Fr.

This may be the strongest running backs unit UCLA has seen in a long time. With improvements on the offensive line adding to the talent in this group, I don’t think we’ll be talking about the lack of a run game any longer.

Go Bruins!