It’s an old football adage, and Nebraska running backs coach Ryan Held completely buys into it — not that any other position coach doesn’t want speed at his position.
But Held doesn’t just talk about it. He preaches it. Take, for example, when 2019 3-star running back Thomas Grayson committed to Nebraska on Monday.
— Ryan Held (@CoachRHeld) April 9, 2018
There are plenty of talented high school football players who could, hypothetically, be recruited by Nebraska. But Held craves a specific type of speed — track speed. Grayson, along with several other of the running back targets on Held’s board, trade in their football cleats for track spikes during the spring and excel in the sport that pays dividends when they take the field come fall.
“We want a home run hitter,” Held told reporters last month.
If we’re sticking with baseball terms, then track stars make for the best sluggers. Breakaway speed will be essential in coach Scott Frost’s offense, with the goal of putting them in situations where if they beat one defender, the play has scoring potential.
“You have to have an element of elusiveness,” Held insists.
Running backs coach Ryan Held said the No. 1 thing he needs in a running back is a “home run hitter.” Said RBs will be put in a lot of spots where he needs to make only one guy miss, so needs a player with elusiveness and breakaway speed. #Huskers
— Brian Rosenthal (@GBRosenthal) March 14, 2018
Nebraska finished 13th in the conference last season in rushing yards per game (107.5). The obvious goal is improvement. The way to do it is not simply in the number of rushing plays and improved line play, but hitting big plays and biting off chunk yardage.
“Our offense is always going to be committed to the run first,” Frost said. “To varying degrees we’ve thrown it and run it depending on our talent. We can’t go as an offense — and really no offense can go — if we can’t establish the run.”
When Held is recruiting, he makes sure to bring up the prospect’s track season. Grayson can run a 10.7-second 100-meter dash.
“We talk about it a lot,” Grayson told Land of 10. “He just asked me about how my times were and how my season was going.”
Does Grayson, a 6-foot, 190-pound prospect, feel capable in hitting those home runs?
“Absolutely,” he said. “I’m very confident in that aspect of my game.”
Rahmir Johnson, a 4-star running back also in the 2019 class, said he and Held also discuss his track accolades quite often. He runs the 60-meter dash in 6.59 seconds.
“[The coaches] tell me what I would mean to the program,” Johnson told Land of 10. “And how much they value me.”
Of course Nebraska values Johnson as a person. That’s the staff’s modus operandi — caring for the recruit. But Johnson’s speed? Yeah, Held values that, too.
The ability to make plays both rushing and receiving intrigued Grayson and was a secondary factor in his decision. If the coaches can replicate their Central Florida success with the Huskers, the results will show in the recruiting game. The fastest players in the country will line up for Held, and he’ll gladly sift through the fray — with the same goal: finding the fastest guys who can step up to the plate and hit the home runs when the offense needs it most.
“Versatility for the running back is endless in that offense,” Grayson said.
Recruits better be ready to swing for the fences to catch Held’s eye. A good place to start is tearing up the track.