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2018 UCLA Football Spring Preview: Running Backs Have Much Room For Improvement

As we enter the Chip Kelly era, a big question mark will be the Bruin run game. What does Kelly have up his sleeve to improve this area?

Bolu Olorunfunmi takes a handoff from Josh Rosen during Fall Camp 2017.
Joe Piechowski

As we continue our Spring Preview of UCLA Football, let’s take a look at a unit that has been struggling, but appeared to be making improvements by the end of last season: running backs.

Even if you’re just a passing UCLA football fan, you know the run game has been pretty awful the last two years. The hiring of Hank Fraley to coach the offensive line seemed to help create a more stable front for our backs to slip through by the end of last season, but we still have a lot of room to grow. Now with Fraley out and new offensive line coach Justin Frye in, it will be interesting to see the impact of this hire on the running backs unit. While technique will come from running backs coach DeShaun Foster, we all know a big key to racking up yards on the ground is a solid offensive line.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

It’s not clear if UCLA has actually lost any of their running backs from. There are three guy who may be gone, but we will have to wait until the Spring roster is published on Tuesday to know for sure.

Nate Starks, who was a true senior last season, unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury in October, but in previous years saw mild success. He peaked as a sophomore, with 320 total yards and five touchdowns on the season. During a press conference in October, Mora hinted at a possible medical redshirt for Starks, but nothing was ever publicized to this end. He meets the NCAA requirements, so it will be interesting to see if he comes back or not.

Justin Rittman and Giovanni Gentosi were listed on last year’s roster as redshirt juniors.We didn’t see anything from Rittman and Gentosi saw limited action in 2017, however, these two were credited with creating the @UCLAWalkons Twitter account. These two went through the Senior Day ceremony back in November, but, because they were redshirt juniors, they do have a year of eligibility remaining. So, it’s not certain whether either will be back again this year.

Who’s Back?

The big returners, and seniors in this class, are Bolu Olorunfunmi and Soso Jamabo. I’m actually pretty disappointed in the production these two have seen while at UCLA, mostly due to the abysmal offensive line that was supposed to be making holes for them to run through. The days of Paul Perkins patiently riding his blocker were clearly over when he graduated, and we’ve really been hurting for his replacement the last two years.

Here is the Spring 2018 running backs unit:

2018 UCLA Spring Football Running Backs

Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2018)
Number Name Height Weight Year (as of Fall 2018)
1 Soso Jamabo 6-2 210 Senior
4 Bolu Olorunfunmi 5-10 215 Senior
20 Brandon Stephens 6-1 210 Junior
27 Joshua Kelley 6-0 210 Senior
28 Cole Kinder 6-1 200 Sophomore
30 Zachary Byrge 5-7 210 R-Junior
32 Jalen Starks 6-0 265 Junior
33 Drew Platt 6-3 235 Sophomore
40 Justin Rittman 6-1 230 R-Senior
45 Giovanni Gentosi 6-2 250 R-Jr.

Who’s New?

Spring football won’t include any new running backs. We’ll have to wait until fall to see how the new additions will pan out.

What Will 2018 Look Like?

With the addition of Frye, the experience of Olorunfunmi and Jamabo, and the recruits that we have coming in, things can only get better. Olorunfunmi and Jamabo will be the go-to guys for now, and add in personnel like Jalen Starks and Brandon Stephens, and suddenly we’ve got a stable of running backs to punch in those touchdowns.

Go Bruins!!!