Troy’s running back-by-committee approach to 2024

Published 9:21 am Thursday, April 18, 2024

There are a number of positions that will see change for Troy Football in 2024 but none will see a greater change than at running back.

Kimani Vidal broke virtually every rushing record in the history of Troy Football – including the single game, single season and career rushing records – and he was a mainstay in the Trojan backfield for four seasons. That consistent force will no longer be one the Troy offense can rely on as he chases his NFL dreams.

The Trojans will now look to some veterans and newcomers in the backfield this coming season. New Troy coach Gerad Parker said that the Trojans would look to try and replace the loss of production with a running back committee.

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“They’re developing trust through our coaching staff and our offense and our players in the locker room,” Parker said of Troy’s running backs. “I think we’ll attack what was lost by attacking it with a group. We’ll have to do it by committee and let those guys earn the opportunity to get carries.

“They all bring different things, there is different talents to each of them. I think there are four guys coming out of spring that will be able to help us, so we’ll do it by committee and attack it that way.”

Junior Northport native Damien Taylor brings the most experience of the returning runners after rushing for 346 yards and one touchdown on 67 carries in 2023. Taylor was rated as a three-star running back coming out of high school and amassed nearly 4,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns in high school for Tuscaloosa County High School.

“Right now spring is going very well, we’re improving as an offense and defense and as a team,” Taylor said. “The team chemistry is getting better and I’m just happy to see where we’re at right now. We’ve come a long way since January.”

Troy running back Damien Taylor celebrates a touchdown with his offensive linemen during a 2023 scrimmage. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

Taylor had the benefit of playing alongside Vidal for the past three seasons, something he says has helped him greatly.

“Playing behind Kimani really showed me how to mature on the field,” Taylor flatly said. “He took a really heavy load and seeing where he is now is motivation, like if he can do it then I can do it. He really motivated me and helped me improve more than I think he realizes.”

Taylor said his only focus during the spring is improving each day.

“The goal for spring is to get one percent better every day,” he said. “Right now, that’s really my only goal, just get one percent better every day and stack good days on top of good days and I think everything else will take care of itself after that.”

Junior Mobile native Jarris Williams rushed for 69 yards and a score on 14 carries last season and was rated as a four-star running back coming out of Blount High School. He amassed 1,352 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior and 1,632 yards and 16 touchdowns as a junior. Williams is expected to be one of the contributors in 2024.

The only other returning running back with a single carry is sophomore Roanoke native Tae Maedows, who carried the ball one time for five yards and a touchdown in 2023. Maedows, however, rushed for 6,326 yards and 66 touchdowns during his high school career, including 33 touchdowns as a senior. He was also an Alabama Mr. Football nominee as a senior.

The other returners include redshirt freshman Statesboro, Ga., running back Jordan Lovett (1,035 yards, 11 TDs as a senior at Statesboro High School) and redshirt freshman Cameron Torres (808 yards, 5 TDs as a senior at Coldwater High School in Florida). Lovett has already showed some flashes of being a contributor during spring. Like Taylor, Lovett said playing alongside Vidal has been a benefit for his career.

“I looked up to him a lot and watching everything he does and every step he takes, just learning from him, was big time,” Lovett said. “Watching film with him really helps you learn new things like how to maneuver through a hole and all the little things, too.”

Lovett is concentrated on continuing to improve this spring, so he can find a way on the field in 2024.

“Spring has been going well, I’m just taking everything day by day and step by step,” he said. “I’m trying to work on my patience and working on learning more and studying more and taking time for myself to better my body. I think that will be important for me.”

The young returners also includes a legacy in sophomore DeWhitt Betterson Jr., whose father was Troy’s all-time leading rusher until Vidal broke his record last season. Betterson Jr. is an Ocala, Fla., native that rushed for 1,037 yards and 11 touchdowns as a senior at Vanguard High School.

Gerald Green transferred from East Carolina to Troy this spring. (Photo by Josh Boutwell)

For more depth – and experience – the Trojans looked to the Transfer Portal during the last recruiting cycle, landing Columbus, Ga., senior Gerald Green, who also brings more size to the running back room at 6-foot and 200 pounds.

Green played high school football at East Coweta High School, where he rushed for 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior. He was ranked as the No. 21 all-purpose back coming out of high school and originally signed with Georgia Southern.

Green played for four seasons at Georgia Southern, amassing 1,456 yards and 13 touchdowns on 256 carries. He rushed for more than 400 yards in three consecutive seasons. In 2023, Green transferred to East Carolina, where he rushed for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries.

“It’s been an easy transition so far,” Green said of his transfer to Troy. “I’ve been a part of the Sun Belt before and I played against Troy before, so it’s been a smooth transition for me.”

Green said the tradition that Troy has built with its running backs appealed to him and that he plans to add to that legacy and add value to the Trojans.

“Seeing the running backs that have come through Troy – and the standard that they’ve set here – motivates me to uphold that same standard,” Green emphasized. “I want to come of spring healthy and be able to produce and add value to the team the best way I can, whether that’s on special teams or offense. I want to fit in wherever I add value.”

The Trojans will also receive some depth from the Wiregrass over the summer as incoming freshman Enterprise native Keion Dunlap joins the team. Like Green, Dunlap brings size at 6-foot-1-inch and 205 pounds. He also brings versatility having played fullback, running back, safety and cornerback during his Enterprise career.

As a senior, Dunlap was rated as a three-star prospect by 247Sports and rushed for 1,077 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to earning All-State honors.

Troy fans will get their first chance to see the new look backfield during T-Day on April 27 at 2 p.m.