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Elite running backs focused on big picture in recruiting

Kendall Milton
Kendall Milton

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Kendall Milton is a five-star running back. As he goes through the recruiting process, the Clovis (Calif.) Buchanan star wants to be told how he will be utilized in each school’s offense.

And one thing his father, Chris, does not want to hear is that his five-star son is going to get the ball on every down.

“We definitely do not want him to be the pound-the-rock kind of guy,” Chris Milton said. “Definitely do not want a program where he’s touching the ball 30 times a game. We want him to be the profile running back, but also have some help.”

There is a change in thinking for many elite running backs these days. Instead of wanting to hear they will get the ball all the time, there is a much more sophisticated balance where the message needs to be that they will be the focal point of the offense but they won’t get ground down too quickly.


For many of these highest-end players, there is a potential future past college football and they want their bodies preserved. Tread on the tires has become much more important than putting up huge stats.

“You don’t want that on your body if you’re blessed to go to the NFL,” four-star running back Bijan Robinson said at the Rivals100 Five-Star Challenge presented by adidas. “You don’t want to be worn out before you go to the NFL. With all the coaches I’ve talked to they’re all saying 20 maximum, that’s the most carries you’ll get. That works out perfectly for me.

“You want the ball, but if you get the ball every time then you’re taking a pounding and it wears on your body for the long run. You want to get the ball, but not every time and then be effective with the ball when you get it.”

Robinson has had these talks with coaches from Ohio State, Texas and USC, his three front-runners. The Miltons have chatted extensively with coaches from Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Ohio State, their four favorites.

But as a father sitting at Kendall’s games, Chris Milton admits he wants to see his son shine and he wants to see his son lead his team to victory. Not at any cost though.

He hopes through the recruiting process that college coaches stick to their word - which could be difficult sometimes as coaches are under more pressure than ever to win and sometimes win big. That means the best players are going to get the ball a lot.

“It’s a balance, because sitting up in the stands and they give it to somebody else or they throw the ball and you’re like, ‘Damn, put the ball in Kendall’s hands,’” Chris Milton said. “By the same token, after he takes hits you’re like, ‘Damn, man, spread it around.’ It’s like a bipolar situation.

“At the end of the day, I just hope that it’s responsible and they look at Kendall’s bigger picture. I don’t have any control over it and even through this recruiting, I can say it until I’m blue in the face, but on Saturday afternoons when 100,000 people are yelling, my word doesn’t mean too much. It’s going to come down to the integrity of the coach to be behind what he said these past several months.”

A look at some of the best college running backs last season show some are getting a whole lot of carries while others - especially ones at Alabama that utilize multiple backs throughout a game - don’t get many at all.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, Boston College’s A.J. Dillon and Arizona State’s Eno Benjamin each averaged around 23 carries per game. Clemson’s Travis Etienne was at more than 13 touches, Georgia’s D’Andre Swift was just under 12 and Alabama’s Najee Harris, expected to be more of a feature back this season, didn’t even average eight carries per game.

Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins, who split carries with Mike Weber as the Buckeyes are a front-runner for both Robinson and Milton, had more than 16 touches per outing.

Alabama’s style last season of spreading out touches with Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris did not hurt running back recruiting in Tuscaloosa at all. Last cycle, the Crimson Tide landed five-star Trey Sanders and four-star Keilan Robinson. Four-star Roydell Williams is already committed in the 2020 class.

“We’ve talked to Alabama, we’ve talked to (running backs coach Charles) Huff, and I 100 percent understand their thought process and I commend them for wanting to preserve their backs and to make sure they have tread on their tires on the next level, so I don’t want him to be the only guy on the roster,” Chris Milton said. “Hell no. That’s a bit much.

“When he’s getting paid, then he can tote the ball like that. Right now, he’s trying to get there.”