No position for the University of Washington football team has been in a state of greater change than running back — and that was the case even before Callen DeBoer took over as coach.
The new Husky staff brought in portal transfers from Nebraska, New Mexico and Virginia to boost numbers and increase competition. The coaches patiently waited for three remaining players to return to good health after knee or shoulder injuries. And they’ve steadily whittled down a once-heavy contingent of Texas power runners.
If newcomer Wayne Taulapapa is named the starter in the first game against Kent State in the seven-man contest — and all signs point to him being — the Huskies will start with five different players returning for the last five games dating back to last season.
Before him, graduate Kamari Pleasant started against Washington State; now sophomore Cam Davis opened at Colorado; Retired tight end Cade Otten moved to fullback for the first game against Arizona State, and graduate Sean McGrew took the field first against Oregon.
Taulapapa, a 5-foot-11, 207-pounder from Honolulu via the Atlantic Coast Conference, brings 27 starts with him from Virginia, and he and former Cornhusker Will Nixon of Waco, Texas, have taken the most snaps since fall camp began .
On Saturday, DeBoer pointed to those two when asked about the ongoing battle for the position.
“Wayne and Will both had some really good games,” the Huskies coach said after the team’s second scrimmage. “They did what they had to do. They were really consistent, broke some fights. Wayne showed some physicality when we needed it.”
Asked if they are the frontrunners to be the No. 1 tailback this season, DeBoer said, “Wayne for sure; Will is right there in the search.”
Nixon comes to the Huskies after spending two seasons at Nebraska as a wide receiver and returning running back who played as a senior.
“He doesn’t shy away from being physical and getting tough yards,” DeBoer said.
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After shaking off injuries and rejoining the mix, redshirt freshman Sam Adams II and sophomore Cam Davis fit into the next tier of candidates.
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The highly touted Adams, the son of a former Seahawks quarterback and the grandson of an NFL offensive lineman, both named Sam Adams, recently surprised his coaches with his full range of capabilities.
“It was probably a little slicker on the inside than I imagined,” DeBoer said. “He was consistent catching the ball, just solid all around.”
New Mexico transfer Aaron Dumas and redshirt freshman Jay’Veon Sunday appear to be next because they aren’t quite ideal for the spread attack that will be used. Neither has much of a history as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
Asked about those two, DeBoer said, “They rotate. When you have that many guys, it’s hard to give everyone a ton of reps.”
Finally, there’s Richard Newton, Jr., who started three games last season before suffering a season-ending injury against UCLA. He has been in uniform but has not yet been cleared to practice without restrictions.
“He’s doing everything he can, he just hasn’t done anything,” DeBoer said. “He’s getting back into it. It takes time… I can’t wait for him to get back out there because I know he made a lot of plays for us.”
See the attached photo gallery for a more detailed breakdown of each of the seven candidates.
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