IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa has gotten into a groove of utilizing a committee at running back. It’s really become common across the country to mix and match ball carriers.
From 2000-2008, six seasons saw the Hawkeye produce a 1,000-yard rusher with Ladell Betts and Fred Russell each logging two of them and Albert Young and Shonn Greene adding one each. In the last six years, they’ve had one (Marcus Coker, 1,384 in ’11).
Attrition and injury at the position during the stretch certainly has helped create a committee approach. It also can be attributed to not having a complete, healthy, every-down back on the roster.
Last season, Mark Weisman (812 yards) and Jordan Canzeri (494) teamed up in what has become a big-back, small-back system at Iowa. Damon Bullock worked in as a third-down back and Akrum Wadley picked up 186 yards (5.6 per carry).
Signs point to it being a rotation again in ’15 with Canzeri, Wadley, LeShun Daniels, and Derrick Mitchell all flashing talent in the spring. It’s not being conceded, however, at least according to one of the contestants.
"You go in like, "I’m going to win this thing." That’s the mentality of all the running backs," Daniels said. "We love each other. We’re going to root for each other to do well but we all want to be the guy and there’s no doubt about that."
Daniels might be the most likely to emerge as an every-down feature back among the guys at the position this fall. At 6-foot, 225-pounds, he’s solid enough to handle a heavy carry load. He appears shifty enough to make the cuts necessary in the zone blocking scheme as well.
After missing most of last season with an injury, Daniels has attacked off-season training with zest. He lost about 10 pounds by improving his diet and increasing his workouts.
"We call LeShun big boy, but he should be called little big boy now," Running Backs Coach Chris White said in the spring. "He just looks unbelievable, and it shows on the field; his speed, his pad level. So he’s going to take the place of Mark, for sure, in terms of those carries and more."
White said that Daniels produced the top shuttle race time for an Iowa running back per Strength and Conditioning Coach Chris Doyle, who is entering his 17th season at the school.
"It’s helped me this spring to make the cuts that I might not have been able to make before and make bigger plays just from losing the weight, to make a person miss and just little things like that," Daniels said.
The Warren, Ohio product said he wasn’t a junk food eater but has learned to consume more healthy food. It’s helped his conditioning, he said, which aids him in running over distance.
"I feel like I’m not going to slow down after, maybe, 25 or 30 yards. I feel like I can still keep going or even pick up more speed. I think that’s where the weight (loss) has really helped me a lot," he said.
Daniels’ spirits and motivation also were lifted in January. His younger brother, James Daniels, enrolled early in college and joined the team as a center. It gave them two years to attempt to get on the field together.
"It would be a great opportunity because not many people get to run behind their brothers (in college football). It would be awesome," LeShun said.
Big brother appreciates the position he and his younger sibling find themselves in.
"Not many people get an opportunity to be at a Division I school with their brothers. I think it’s really sweet to have him here. We have fun because we hang out and stuff. It’s a really fun opportunity to have him here," LeShun said.
And for their parents, LeShun Sr. and Alicia Daniels, it makes things a lot easier than if they were in different programs.
"Yeah, (it’s) a lot easier on my parents," LeShun said with a smile.