Iowa football's running back competition is picking up this summer. Here's the latest.
Iowa's spring football practice had a different feel for sophomore running back Gavin Williams.
For the last two years he patiently waited behind veteran backs for his opportunity. After a breakout game in the Citrus Bowl and a few departures out of the room, he found himself getting the bulk of the first-team reps during spring.
"It's a great feeling," Williams said. "Everybody wants to be the star, you know, and sometimes you get here and you kind of lose sight of that because you might be buried in the depth chart or a number of other things. And I just feel like it taught me to just put my head down and keep working every day and eventually I will reap the benefits."
The same can be said for fellow sophomore Leshon Williams. Like Gavin (no relation), Williams redshirted in 2020 and didn't see much action in 2021 until the Citrus Bowl, where the two combined for 173 yards. Due to an injury to redshirt freshman Deavin Hilson, the two Williamses were the only healthy scholarship running backs during spring practice and continued their bowl game momentum.
"I view it as though I have two top guys," running backs coach Ladell Betts said during spring.
The sophomore duo entered summer conditioning as Iowa's top two options for the 2022 season, but the room is much deeper than it was during spring. Hilson figures to have a say in the third running back spot. He impressed coach Betts last season on scout team, winning scout team player of the week on a few occasions.
The Hawkeyes also signed two running backs during the 2022 cycle that are on campus now: Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson. Both incoming freshmen are seeking early playing time as well.
"Young guys always come in hungry," Gavin Williams said. "I feel like that's going to be the best for us because it's going to breed competition. Competition brings the best out of everybody. So I feel like that's a good addition to our room."
Gavin Williams described spring practice as "huge" because it helped serve as a mini season for he and Leshon. With the Citrus Bowl and 15 practices under their belts, they're able to watch themselves on film this summer, another key in the development process.
"Every film session could be different," Gavin Williams said. "When I watch film, I start by seeing how practice went overall. Then I'll watch it again to see what I did. Did I do my assignment, have good technique, did I finish? So seeing if I did good on those plays. Then the next time I watch, I go back and see what could I improve on. I did OK in this section, but where could I be better?"
For the incoming freshmen, the challenge will be picking up the playbook quickly to earn Betts' trust. There are a few factors working in their favor. First, both have focused exclusively on football training since the end of their senior seasons and physically look the part. And second, both fit the "stick the foot in the ground and move downhill" style that Betts favors.
"Those guys are downhill runners," Betts said during spring. "Jazz is an in-between the tackles, physical kind of guy. And Caleb is a big body guy that has really transitioned to his running style, 6-foot-1, 215 pounds so he's a big kid. Both of those guys can get down."
The competition between Gavin Williams, Leshon Williams, Hilson and the freshmen will continue through fall camp. What's clear is Betts will have a potentially strong group to chose from.
And available playing time elevates the game of everyone in the room. Leshon Williams sees it as a benefit and believes it will help push the rushing offense forward this season.
"I always go by the motto of iron sharpens iron," Leshon Williams said. "Every day we go in and try to outdo each other because it's going to make us better at the end of the day."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.