Howe: Selfless Toren Young Unites Iowa’s Running Back Room

September 3, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Toren Young could have pouted when he was beaten out for Iowa’s starting running back position during August training camp. He could have hung his head Saturday when he went without a carry in the first half while teammates Ivory Kelly-Martin and Mehki Sargent received all the attempts.

The thing is, he wouldn’t do that. It would be completely out of character.

The veteran in a young Hawkeye position group, Young sets the tone for it. He’s the reason the coaches talk about making a three-man committee work here. If he projected negativity, it would derail the plan.

“I can’t get selfish, I can’t get greedy with reps. I can’t get frustrated when I’m not in the game because I have to support those guys and I have to help watch for stuff and help coach them up and just be there for them when they’re in the game,” he said after Saturday’s 33-7 season-opening win against Northern Illinois.

“The most important thing is just about winning first. It’s not about who’s getting the most reps or carries, who’s getting the touchdowns. We want to win.”

His attitude in the first half when Kelly-Martin and Sargent combined for 16 carries to his zero helped in the second half when he shouldered the load. He rushed eight times for a game-high 84 yards and a touchdown as the Hawkeyes put up 30 of their points.

Kelly-Martin and Sargent saw how he acted before the intermission. It was easy for them to do the same in the second half.

“I think they understand we’re going to do the best thing for the team. That’s our jobs as coaches. I think it’s kind of what I see with these three guys they’re all really, really good guys and I’m thrilled they’re on our team,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.

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Young topped the depth chart in the spring and to start training camp. Kelly-Martin emerged in August and won the right to open the game against Northern Illinois.

When asked about Kelly-Martin’s emergence at Tuesday’s press conference, Ferentz clarified that he saw it being a running back committee. He wasn’t interested in singling out any of them. He reiterated that point on Saturday.

“We as a staff look at all three of those guys as prominent guys on our team. I envision us having a rotation with them and playing all three of them and we’re going to need all three during the season,” the coach said.

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The coaches told Young at halftime to be ready to go. Even though a few runs were wiped out by penalties, the Hawkeye ground game looked inconsistent in the first half. Bringing in the power back would give Northern Illinois a different look.

With Iowa facing a first-down-and-21 situation, Young came into the game and ripped off a 40-yard run on the team’s second offensive series. It set up a touchdown that put Iowa ahead 10-0. His play changed the momentum of the game.

Young powered through the hole, broke a few tackles and even showed some speed to the outside.

“To me that’s who he is. He’s just a hard physical guy. If he plays to his strengths, that’s what he’ll give us hopefully. And that kid was a spark also. And good players make good plays like that to give you a spark,” Ferentz said.

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What we saw Saturday was a blue print for what this running back committee could look like going forward. Kelly-Martin led the way with 16 carries, Sargent logged 12 and Young received eight.

While the ratios could change based on the opponent and the flow of the game, the overall equation makes Iowa more difficult to scout.

“All three of us bring different styles of play. That can keep the defense on their toes a little bit because they don’t know what they’re getting,” Young said.

It’s not easy to keep three running backs happy but this just might work. And if it does, Young will be a big reason regardless of how many carries or yards he gets. He’s the selfless, humble leader that keeps things healthy and promotes good chemistry.

“It felt good to get back out there with the guys. It was fun. The O-Line did a great job springing the backs. They did the hard part getting the backs to the next level,” he said.

We probably all could learn something from Toren Young.

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