Please don’t call DeeJay Dallas a running back.
On second thought, you can call him a running back, receiver, punt returner and wildcat quarterback.
But the University of Miami sophomore backup to starting tailback Travis Homer had a tidier, more concise idea last Wednesday after being asked if running back was starting to feel like a natural position.
“I try not to box myself into that label as just a running back,’’ Dallas immediately answered. “I’m an ‘athlete’ before anything. I can play anything on the field. Whatever Coach [Mark] Richt needs me to play, I’ll play it.’’
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Dallas came to UM from Brunswick, Georgia, as a consensus four-star prospect who played quarterback, receiver, running back, defensive back and return specialist at Glynn Academy, earning a No. 15 national ranking for “athletes’’ by Rivals.com.
He started last season for the Canes as a receiver, was integrated to running back after former star Mark Walton sustained a season-ending injury Oct. 7, then began practicing with the receivers again after tight end Chris Herndon and wideout Ahmmon Richards had season-ending injuries in late November.
As a freshman who played in 12 of 13 games, the sturdy, stocky and speedy Dallas rushed for 217 yards and scored three touchdowns on 41 carries (5.3 yards per carry). He caught four passes for an impressive 92 yards.
His touchdowns came against traditional powerhouses Notre Dame (a pair of 4-yard runs) and Wisconsin (a career-long 39-yard run). Dallas’ 39-yard score was on a direct snap, which he took and charged down the right sideline with 2:49 left in the first quarter to give UM a 14-3 lead in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
“I feel stronger, faster and like I’m playing physical,’’ said Dallas, who is listed as 5-10 and has gained 25 pounds to his current 220 since what he said was his lightest playing weight of 195 in 2017. “I know what to do now. I’m not making mental errors — or maybe an occasional mental error when working on communication.”
Offensive coordinator Thomas Brown, who coaches the running backs, said this past week that Dallas is “a very skilled athlete’’ who benefits from watching Homer practice. “That dude will kill himself on that field,’’ Thomas said of Homer.
“DeeJay has made a lot of progress,’’ Brown said. “Obviously, playing between the tackles is going to be DeeJay’s biggest adjustment from being more of an athlete out in space. ...He’s 220 pounds. He’s just got to play like it. He’s getting super electric in space, but he has to understand how he can use his skill-set to be the best player he can be be.”
Dallas, who said he was timed in the 40 in 4.45 seconds this summer, looks up to Homer and is trying to help freshman tailback Cam’Ron Davis adjust to college ball. But he loves being an all-around talent.
“It’s what I’ve always done since I was a little boy,’’ he said. “It gives me more value and bring more fun to the game.’’
Dallas also is expected to return punts and/or kickoffs this season.
“Jeff Thomas and DeeJay Dallas are so far ahead ahead of everybody else right now that it’s really a two-man race in that regard,’’ special teams coach Todd Hartley said.
“I’m becoming a well-rounded athlete,’’ Dallas said. “TB [Thomas Brown] is making me into what he wants me to be, and I’m just following suit.’’
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