The Maryland football position preview series carries on with the running back room. The Terps return a few explosive options out of the backfield, and the room promises to be deep in 2022.
Maryland will need to fill the production void left by Tayon Fleet-Davis, who wrapped up his college career in 2021 and signed a deal with the Kansas City Chiefs as an undrafted free agent. The Terps return their second- and third-leading rushers, though, in sophomore Colby McDonald and senior Challen Faamatau. Promising redshirt freshmen backs Roman Hemby and Antwain Littleton also return, while incoming freshman Ramon Brown has a chance to be impactful in year one.
Though it may not be the most highly-touted group — notorious college football writer Phil Steele does not have Maryland listed as a top-58 room in the nation — there is potential for success. With the pieces that fourth-year running back coach Elijah Brooks has in his unit, the Terps are confident it can be a dangerous one this fall.
Running back depth
|Colby McDonald||Sophomore||60 Att, 325 Yds, 5.4 Avg, 2 TD|
|Roman Hemby||Redshirt Freshman||17 Att, 71 Yds, 4.2 Avg, 2 TD|
|Challen Faamatau||Senior||56 Att, 235 Yds, 4.2 Avg, 3 TD|
|Antwain Littleton II||Redshirt Freshman||15 Att, 74 Yds, 4.9 Avg, 1 TD|
Fleet-Davis was the Terps’ workhorse last season, leading the team with 128 attempts, 5.6 yards per carry and eight rushing touchdowns. With the graduation of Fleet-Davis and the departures of Peny Boone and Isaiah Jacobs into the transfer portal, the Terps lose 56.7% of their rushing production in terms of yards and 44.6% in terms of rushing attempts.
“Tayon did a fantastic job, but we’re excited about some of our guys returning,” said Brooks, who was available to the media before spring practice on March 29. “Challen Faamatau, he’s the vet in the room, had a fantastic year coming in and playing a role. And then we have three young gifted running backs in Colby McDonald, Antwain Littleton and Roman Hemby, who finished the year strong. And now we have an incoming running back in Ramon Brown, who I think is gonna make a splash. So, all the way around, disappointed to see Tayon go, but I think we’re excited about the future.”
Currently, it would be ill-advised to lay a finger on one player to separate themselves as the concrete No. 1 back. One may evolve into the guy like Fleet-Davis did, but a running back-by-committee approach should be expected.
McDonald and Hemby each seem poised to have a crack at being the Terps’ top man out of the backfield. Both players were featured heavily during the annual spring game on April 29. Hemby got the start with the No. 1 offense, while McDonald switched to the No. 2 offense following an injury to Faamatau. McDonald put together 153 total yards in front of the public – 101 of which were rushing – while Hemby had a home-run touchdown of his own.
The two second-year players should seemingly get the nod as the Terps’ top two backs as a dynamic duo in 2022, with McDonald being the more seasoned of the two. Maryland’s other second-year returner in Littleton stands out due to size alone, overpowering opponents with his six-foot, 285-pound frame. He’ll have the fewest career attempts out of Maryland’s four returning backs but could be featured as a goalline weapon, just as he was in Maryland’s Pinstripe Bowl victory over Virginia Tech.
Faamatau, a former walk-on and junior college product, brings much-needed experience to the room as well. Faamatau’s 4.2 yards per carry in 2021 were substantially less than McDonald’s 5.4 yards per attempt average, but his 56 rushing attempts validated the coaching staff’s belief in what he can do. The Hawaii native is not someone to discount, but others in the room perhaps have the edge in talent.
Brown is the wild card in Maryland’s running back room. A six-foot, four-star running back in the class of 2022, the freshman could take everyone by surprise this fall. The coaching staff, which flipped Brown from his previous Virginia Tech commitment, is elated about his potential.
“It was a fierce recruiting battle and obviously, he chose to go, committed somewhere else,” Brooks said of Brown. “But when that didn’t work out, we went full force and thankfully we were able to flip him…His talent with the ball in his hand is evident and he can transition to the college speed and pick up the game, he’ll be an excellent weapon in our offense.”
Depth abound, running back is a “position of strength”
Though the Terps have only had two seasons with an above-.500 record since joining the Big Ten, they have had no shortage of talent with their skill position players, running backs included. Former Terps Jake Funk, Ty Johnson, Anthony McFarland and Trey Edmunds have all made impacts at the NFL level in the past few years.
In 2021, Maryland had the 10th-best rushing offense in the Big Ten with 136.5 rushing yards per game. The Terps also rattled off the fourth-most touchdowns in the Big Ten with 49 scores, 20 of which came via the ground attack. The run game will be a big part of what any offense does in the Big Ten, and the Terps feel enthused about the group they have this fall.
“That’s one of the few positions of strength that we feel we have the type of depth we’re going to need to get through the season, but also the talent in that room,” head coach Michael Locksley said following April’s spring game. “And that’s not even talking about the addition of guys like Ramon Brown, who will be coming in.”
This group also feels comfortable running behind Maryland’s offensive line, one that may be the best it has seen in several years. The Terps return their entire starting offensive line from 2021, and Locksley also expressed his pleasure with building the second offensive line this spring. McDonald expressed the same sentiment too, saying he’s used to both offensive lines and can run with anybody.
“I feel as though our running back room is very stacked this year, one of the best we’ve had in a while, for real,” said McDonald, following the spring game. “And I feel like we’re gonna show it this season.”
Though the depth chart may not be finalized, the coaching staff feels that any of the five guys can make a difference in between the lines. If Maryland’s running backs can enjoy success, it will allow star quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa to navigate the game more easily heading into a season with high expectations.