Size matters if you’re a 5-10 running back expected to handle the ball 20-25 times a game against defenses knowing your offense starts with the run.
So, FIU junior running back Kedrick Rhodes, after averaging 21 touches per game and running for a school record 1,149 yards in 2011, added some size this summer. He estimates he gained 13 to 15 pounds, mostly in the upper body.
“He’s definitely over 200 pounds,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “When he first got here, you saw all the tools. You saw a kid who was developing. You saw all the mechanics. You knew the weight room eventually had to help him achieve that next step in his personal game. I think we have it now. I think we see that in him now as a guy who can take it and go 60. He’s had a couple of really big ones. We feel he’s a guy who can separate once he is gone.”
But the counter axiom is bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes last year, Rhodes didn’t seem to run through packs so much as make shifty glides similar to a fly negotiating a room full of swatters. Rhodes’ best runs and games displayed running skill more than Juggernaut power or Professor Zoom speed, yet one college football preview magazine named him the Sun Belt Conference’s hardest runner to bring down.
As to whether he was worried that the bulk gain would leave that slippery quality behind, Rhodes said, “Well, at first, but as I was gaining weight, I was still running. So, I still kept my speed. Matter of fact, I think I’m a little faster. I feel a little quicker anyway.”
If he’s right, it’ll be another element in place for a memorable year for the running game. Four of five starters return on the offensive line, though last year’s left guard Shae Smith and center Giancarlo Revila swapped spots. Quarterback Jake Medlock’s a run threat that defenses have to account for much more so than they did Wesley Carroll. And though T.Y. Hilton’s gone, FIU still has receivers who can keep defensive backs from creeping into the box (as long as Medlock hits a deep ball every now and then).
Also, with more size could come more durability, although it’s not as if Rhodes tailed off last season. He suffered an ankle injury against Middle Tennessee State in the regular season finale after running for 117 yards on 20 carries. He said he was fine for the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl loss to Marshall in which he gained 28 yards on 10 carries, his second fewest yards and yards per carry of the season.
Still, Rhodes might not have to handle the ball as often as he did last year. Cristobal cautions that redshirt senior Jeremiah Harden, senior Darian Mallary and redshirt freshman Shane Coleman also appear improved.
“The thing that’s exciting about the whole thing,” Cristobal said. “The backs, there’s a significant difference in their explosiveness and size. If we continue to move the ball and get as many plays as we’ve been getting, there’s enough plays in there for a lot of guys.
“Really the key for us whether it be three wide receivers, one tight end, one back; two tight ends, two wide receivers, one back; or three running backs and two wide receivers, we’ve got to find a way to put the best five skill players on the field. We’re willing to mix and match personnel. It may not be carries all the time. It may be in the passing game.”
FIU expected to split carries among Rhodes, then-senior Darriet Perry, Harden and Mallary last season. By the end of the first quarter of the season opener against North Texas, Rhodes had two touchdowns. The top job never was out of his grip after that.
“Last season gave me a lot of confidence,” Rhodes said. “I feel like I can make plays. I feel like I can change the game. I feel like I can come through in clutch situations.”