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Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014

The Hall way: JC transfer is in the mix in Aggie backfield

By Jeff Hunter, For the Deseret News

Published: Wed, Aug. 13 11:25 a.m. MDT

 Utah State running back Rashad Hall, left, practices with the Aggies.

Utah State running back Rashad Hall, left, practices with the Aggies.

(Jeff Hunter)

LOGAN — Officially, Rashad Hall redshirted last season after transferring to Utah State from Contra Costa College in San Pablo, California. But for at least one day last fall, Hall was the Aggies’ featured back on Merlin Olsen Field at Romney Stadium.

In order to demonstrate the strength of the suction generated by the Personnel Vacuum Assisted Climber – an award-winning device produced by USU engineering students — for a National Geographic Channel show titled “Showdown of the Unbeatables,” a request was made of the Aggie football program.

“They wanted to use a strong running back, and I’m a strong running back,” Hall said of his brief appearance on the TV show.

For his part, Hall said the production company that filmed the episode last Sept. 20 used him for just about half an hour. The PVAC, which allows the user to climb up vertical surfaces without the aid of a rope, was turned on and a strap attached to the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Hall, who was unable to yank it away from the wall at the north end of Romney Stadium.

“It was workout,” Hall said. “But I definitely wasn’t going to be able to pull it off. Those engineering students know what they’re doing.”

While Hall said he felt like it was a good sign that USU head coach Matt Wells recommended him for the demonstration, Wells suggested that there was something more to Hall’s selection than just the Virginia native’s size and strength.

“I thought it was something good for a running back that’s redshirting to do because in case he got hurt, we had plenty of time to get him healed,” Wells declared with a chuckle.

That said, Wells is definitely excited to have Hall available to carry the football this fall. The junior running back was one of the standout performers of the spring, taking advantage of additional playing time made possible by the graduation of Joey DeMartino (1,221 yards and 13 touchdowns on 221 carries) and Robert Marshall (415 yards on 94 carries), and the absence of senior Joe Hill, who was still rehabbing from a season-ending knee injury he suffered on Sept. 27 at San Jose State.

“Rashad had a really good spring, and he also had a really good summer,” USU special teams/running backs coach Dave Ungerer said of Hall, who racked up 124 yards on 15 carries during the Blue vs. White Spring Game. “He’s gained a little bit of strength and a little bit of weight, so we’re really excited about the improvements he’s made.”

At the start of fall camp last week, Hall saw a lot of the time with the No. 1 offense along with Hill, who is listed as the starter after totaling 252 yards and one touchdown on 53 carries prior to his injury. Concerns about a possible concussion following a hard hit to his head during practice last Friday sidelined Hall on Saturday and the first day of two-a-days on Monday, but he’s expected to return to action sometime this week.

In addition to Hill and Hall, the USU backfield mix also includes 5-8, 160-pound sophomore Kennedy Williams, who had a strong spring, as well, and 5-11, 208-pound freshman Karris Johnson. Like Hall, Johnson redshirted last season, while Kennedy, the younger brother of former Aggie and current San Diego Charger Kerwynn Williams, carried the ball 21 times for 68 yards in 2013.

A couple of other freshman backs, 5-8, 185-pound LaJuan Hunt and 5-9, 180-pound Justin Hervey, are also in camp this fall, along with another junior college transfer 5-9, 177-pound sophomore Tonny Lindsey.

“We have a lot of bodies,” Ungerer noted. “We lost of a couple of seniors, so we do have a lot of newcomers and freshmen to add to the group. We feel like they’re all talented guys, but they’re just learning. And there’s a lot to learn. The offense is pretty complex.”

Because there’s “a lot of nuances” for USU’s running backs to understand and absorb, Wells thinks that redshirting last season will end up being very beneficial for Hall over the final two years of his collegiate career.

“There’s a high expectation around here for the running backs,” Wells said. “Not only how they play, but how they train and how they carry themselves. And we’re not going to lower it.”

In recent years, USU’s offense has an impressive run of 1,000-yard backs, from current Seattle Seahawk Robert Turbin (1,517 yards in 2011) to Kerwynn Williams (1,512 yards in 2012) to DeMartino. And that trio doesn’t even include Michael Smith, who was drafted by Tampa Bay after totaling 870 yards on just 114 attempts in 2011.

Of course, DeMartino’s emergence last season was aided by a veteran offensive line, a group that graduation has left much younger and inexperienced heading into the 2014 campaign. And while USU’s running back position looks deep and talented this year, that collection of athletes is also short on game experience.

“I think this group of running backs has talent, but they haven’t done it yet on a consistent basis,” Wells said. “And one of the key ingredients to being a great back is being able to do it when you’re not fresh. Everyone gets banged up and a bit hurt after a few games, so being able to do it day after day, game after game, that’s how you become a special back.”

Hall certainly believes he can be a “special back” over the next two years. He admitted that he “still has a chip on my shoulder.”

“I’m still trying to prove that I’m the guy coming out of the spring,” he said.

Hall grew up in Lynchburg, Virginia, where he ran for 1,437 yards and 17 touchdowns as a junior at Jefferson Forest High School. He then played his senior year at Oak Ridge Military Prep in North Carolina and was tabbed as the No. 67 prep running back in the country after rushing for 1,100 yards and 15 touchdowns for a team that went 10-0.

But after signing with Colorado, Hall’s ACT score wasn’t high enough for him to attend CU, so the Buffaloes had him go to Contra Costa College with the idea that he would soon qualify academically to transfer to Boulder. However, that plan fell apart when CU head coach Jon Embree was fired in 2012, and after averaging 127.5 yards per game as a sophomore at CCC, the Aggies were very interested in having Hall come to Logan.

“I like it here,” said Hall, who played at CCC with Aggie wide receiver Ronald Butler. “Honestly, it’s just like back home; quiet farmland like Lynchburg. And then I just clicked with the coaches, and quickly clicked with Coach Ungerer. It’s like a family around here, and that’s what made me commit to play here.”

Already USU’s tallest running back, Hall added a few pounds of muscle over the summer, something Ungerer is clearly excited about.

“We like Rashad to run like a big back,” he proclaimed. “He’s the kind of guy that after contact, he’s going to get you a few extra yards because he’s a little bit bigger and stronger and first contact’s not going to bring him down.”

When asked to describe his running style, Hall immediately replied, “A.P.”

“You can expect A.P. out there,” he continued, referencing Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson. “A hard runner, a fast runner. Explosive, first cut go, no dancing. I’m the big back, so I’ve got to show what big backs do.”

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1. MJB
Tooele, UT,
Aug. 13, 2014

With the addition of all these running backs, the upcoming season looks promising. Hopefully, being able to hand off to these backs and passing to the wide outs will help Chuckie stay healthy this year. He will have many weapons at his disposal. Go AGGIES!

2. tinplater
scottsdale, AZ,
Aug. 13, 2014

Everything really hinges on the O line and the defensive backs. If those groups play well, look out!! It is great to feel the excitement in the air surrounding the Aggies after decades of dismal football.

3. Idaho.Aggie
Idaho Falls, ID,
Aug. 13, 2014

Looking at the schedule every game appears to be one the Aggies can win. They'll be underdogs in a few of them but they're still winnable. Running backs, quarterbacks, D-line and backers...there's strength in many key positions. Positions that are questionable don't appear to be weak so I'm optimistic about this year. Hoping for 10 or more wins. This is definitely a year I wish we were playing Utah!