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Buffs Position Preview: Hagan's RBs Aim To Return To Consistent Production

Aug 18, 2022

BOULDER — Colorado's running backs room has experience, youth, size and speed this year.

Alex Fontenot led the Buffaloes in rushing in 2019. Deion Smith received a taste of action last year, enjoyed a productive spring and is thus far having his best fall camp ever.

Meanwhile, sophomore Jayle Stacks' versatility offers the Buffs a different look, walkon Charlie Offerdahl continues to make a case for some playing time, and incoming freshmen Victor Venn and Anthony Hankerson are already turning heads with their abilities.

There is a good mixture of proven ability and blossoming potential in the room.

But the best news for Buffs fans?

The man in charge of the room hasn't changed. As long as Darian Hagan is coaching Colorado's running backs, whoever lines up in the backfield will be well-prepared and well-versed in what it takes to be a productive back in the Pac-12.

Hagan's body of work at CU is exemplary. In his two stints as the Buffs' RBs coach, he has coached a healthy list of quality backs. From Rodney Stewart to Phillip Lindsay to Trayvon McMillian, Fontenot and Jarek Broussard, Hagan's backs have always been productive. Through changes in head coaches, coordinators and offensive schemes, one constant has been the production from Hagan's room.

A year ago, CU's running game took a big hit — but that was just a symptom of an overall malaise throughout the offense. The Buffs averaged just 3.46 yards per carry and 126.2 yards per game on the ground. Both were on the low end of CU's historical efforts.

But the Buffs now have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Sanford and head coach Karl Dorrell has made it plain he wants CU to return to a punishing, productive rushing attack. 

There may have been no more telling remark in camp thus far than Dorrell's statement after last weekend's scrimmage. 

Asked about the run game, he said, "That group is starting to create the mystique of toughness that I like to see."

What Hagan has seen so far in fall camp is a productive, consistent group that offers good versatility.

Fontenot and Smith have the potential to give the Buffs a strong one-two punch if they can both stay healthy. Both have been hampered by injuries the last couple of seasons, but so far this August, both are running at full speed.

"If Alex can stay healthy, the sky's the limit," Hagan said. "He's a top back, one of the top in the country if given the opportunity. I don't think he's taken a second seat to anybody since he's been here."

Equally important is the fact that the entire room appears to have fully bought into a "team first" attitude, exemplified by Smith's approach.

"He never pouted," Hagain said. "When other people were pouting about touches and things like that, he never said, 'I need the ball.' He's a team-first guy."

While Fontenot and Smith are expected to share the lion's share of duties this year, Hagan is also supremely excited about his newcomers, Venn and Hankerson. 

Venn, he said, is a "home run hitter" with excellent speed. 

But it was Hagan's comparison of Hankerson to a former Buff that raised eyebrows.

"He reminds me of a guy I played with, Eric Bieniemy," Hagan said. "He's the same stature (5-9, 190 pounds), same physicality. When he gets his opportunity, you guys are going to see something special."

POSITION COACH — Hagan is entering his 12th season as a CU assistant covering two stints. He may be one of the Pac-12's most underrated coaches, as his running backs are consistently productive. He has produced 1,000-yard rushers in a variety of offenses, and has shown the ability to turn unheralded backs into outstanding players.

KEY RETURNEES — Alex Fontenot, CU's leading rusher in 2019, is back and appears to be fully healthy after battling injuries for a couple of years. Also back are Deion Smith, who had 53 carries last season, and versatile Jayle Stacks, who has shown an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make plays in space.

KEY NEWCOMERS — The Buffs have a number of new backs, but the two headliners are Victor Venn and Anthony Hankerson, a pair of true freshmen who have already shown flashes. Hagan called them both "alpha dogs," adding, "They're hungry and they're smart."

 

IF ALL GOES WELL … Fontenot will return to his 2019 form, Smith will add a consistent big-play threat and CU's youngsters will add some occasional production. If that happens, Colorado's run game will become an attack that can control the rhythm and tempo of a game — and open up the opportunity for a consistent passing attack.

You can now secure seats for another season of Colorado Buffaloes football. Tickets are available and can be purchased here.