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Kenneth Goins is bringing power and patience to Maryland football’s backfield

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The senior has three touchdowns in 2016.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Maryland Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Kenneth Goins is just 5’9, but he’s one of the most physically intimidating players Maryland football puts on the field. The senior running back is a dense 233 pounds; he completes his look with a scruffy beard and dreadlocks that fall to his shoulders.

He adds a powerful running style that Lorenzo Harrison and Ty Johnson, Maryland’s feature backs of late, simply don’t have. When the Terps are practicing pass protection, Goins can block linebackers one-handed.

Goins played running back and defensive end at Gilman High School (where Maryland linebacker Shane Cockerille was his quarterback), earning accolades and college interest on both sides of the ball. After redshirting his first season at Maryland, he appeared in all 13 games during his freshman season. He’s played on special teams his whole career, and was the Terps’ primary fullback the past three seasons.

There was always a ceiling on him, though. He made four starts at fullback in 2014 and three in 2015, recording 62 rushing yards as a sophomore and 61 as a junior. Goins was an occasional weapon in the backfield, hauling in one touchdown catch in each of his first three years, but his main role came as a blocker. It took until the final two games of last season for him to make an impact on the ground. Seven of his nine carries in 2015 came in those last two weeks—six against Indiana and one against Rutgers.

That sole carry in the season’s final contest was Goins’ first career rushing touchdown, a 42-yard breakaway that helped the Terps win their only conference game of the fall.

When the new coaching staff came in last winter, his role had to change. Walt Bell’s offense doesn’t use fullbacks, so Goins was moved over to halfback in the spring in the hopes of getting him on the field more often.

“The first meeting that he and I had was ‘You’re too good of a player for us not to have you on the field, so we’re gonna start you at tailback to make sure that you understand pass protection and all those things, have the ball in your hands and see how you spin,’” Bell said.

Bell also had thoughts of using Goins as a tight end if he didn’t fit in, but he quickly hopped on board with a return to the position he played in high school.

“I was excited. I always wanted to play running back, but I was willing to be wherever the team needed me in years prior to this one,” Goins said. “But once he told me that, it kinda got me more excited about playing this year.”

Goins said that his previous experience at the position made the transition easier, although his time at fullback surely helped as well. That position places an emphasis on seeing holes develop and reading defenses that isn’t taught to halfbacks to the same extent, so Goins’ three years at the spot gave him an advantage of sorts in camp.

“He’s a guy that executes at every aspect of the game,” Johnson said. “He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can run, he can pass pro. He’s probably the best pass pro running back I’ve ever seen. He plays special teams, the works. When you see him do that, it’s like ‘OK, now I’ve got to work on that and this.’”

Through seven games, Goins has 20 carries for 136 yards, both career bests. He has three touchdowns on the ground and both of Maryland’s 2-point conversions. The senior’s 2-yard score in the fourth quarter on Saturday gave the Terps a lead they would never relinquish to Michigan State.

Johnson and Harrison have emerged as this team’s top two rushers, and that will probably continue to some extent as Maryland enters the stretch run. But Goins “has carved out a nice little role for himself,” Bell said, and looks poised for a strong finish to his college career.

“The combination of quick feet and really good vision that comes from him playing fullback for as long as he did, that’s allowed him to kind of give us something that Johnson and Harrison don’t," Bell said.

“Down there on the goal line, he’s the back that’s back there, and we’ll continue to try and build and expand his role as we go through the year.”