Heading into the 2019 season, one of the more interesting position battles facing the Spartans will be the running back position as Michigan State now faces life after L.J. Scott, something that the previous couple of seasons have helped prepare the program for.
The leading candidate to take over the top spot on Michigan State’s depth chart is Connor Heyward, who showed flashes when filling in for an injured Scott throughout last year, but there will be plenty of competition as the running back position is one of Michigan State’s deepest positions on the roster.
Along with Heyward, the Spartans have sophomore La’Darius Jefferson, who appeared in all 11 games a season ago and tallied 78 carries, redshirt freshman Elijah Collins and true freshman Anthony Williams Jr., who has already turned heads with a strong spring.
With very little clarity surrounding the running back position and no seniors at the position, Heyward said that he’s embracing being the leader of the group based on seniority and experience.
“All of us are competing every day,” he said. “But I know I’m the oldest guy in the room now – I’m a junior, usually there’s an older guy, a senior fullback or something. But I’m the oldest guy, but based on the number of reps I got last year, I’m basically forced into that leadership role. I’m fine with that and I know that the younger guys and even the guys my age look up to me.”
As a sophomore a season ago, Heyward rushed for 529 yards and five touchdowns on 113 carries, which has led to him being the leader for the starting job this fall.
But playing in Michigan State’s traditionally run-heavy offense, Heyward knows head coach Mark Dantonio prefers having a bell cow at running back, someone capable of handling the majority of carries on a game-in, game-out basis.
Heyward said that while there is a lot of depth at the running back position for the Spartans, he knows Dantonio is looking for an every down back and hopes to take over that role this fall.
“I know we have a lot of depth, but Coach D came in the spring and said ‘I want a guy who can carry the ball 200 times this year’,” he said. “Obviously I didn’t carry the ball that many times (last year), but I think he knows I’d love to carry the ball 200 times and I know it’s not going to be given to me, I have to earn that each day.”
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