Taking on a more extensive role in the game plan figures to be a step-by-step process for the Hawaii running backs.
Rushing the ball effectively depends heavily on the coordination between the running backs and the offensive line, a relationship that begins with taking the correct track at the snap. Start off with a false or misaligned step in the backfield and the chances of opening up their stride in the secondary diminish significantly.
"It’s a lot of new footwork," freshman Will Gregory said of the Warriors’ preparations for their first season running a pro-style offense. "Little things can mess up the play … bad."
Coming off a redshirt year, Gregory is part of a diverse group of running backs expected to share time. They will account for a greater percentage of the work load in UH’s conversion from the run-and-shoot.
The changeover required a few adjustments in fundamentals for the returning running backs who previously played in UH’s one-back set.
"Everything we do in the backfield is designed to help the scheme up front," UH running backs coach Keith Uperesa said. "Their footwork and their track and their aiming point … is part of a block that helps us get the guys into the proper position to execute what they’re doing up front.
"If they stay on track, they can allow those guys to execute and it gives them an idea of what blocks are going where."
For much of the previous two coaching regimes, blocking was one of the running backs’ main functions, with draws and shovel passes mixed in as a changeup to the passing game.
Joey Iosefa leads the returnees in a relatively young group of backs after averaging 5 yards per carry on his way to a team-high 548 net yards and seven touchdowns as a freshman. John Lister, another sophomore, is in line to get a significant bump in playing time after carrying the ball seven times last season. Senior Sterling Jackson emerged as a ground threat last year with 4.3 yards per carry and two scores.
Like Iosefa last year, Gregory is looking to provide a spark in the running game as a redshirt freshman. He signed with UH after having played in a wing-T offense at Dominguez High School, when he earned All-CIF Southern Section honors. He spent his first fall camp at UH adjusting to the run-and-shoot assignments before being designated to redshirt. Although sitting out tested his patience, he’s feels the new offense is a more natural fit to his running style and is now relishing the prospect of playing four years in the current system.
"(Redshirting) made me hungrier. I can’t wait to get on the field again," Gregory said. "I took a year off and I have to show people I’ve still got it."
The season he spent watching and waiting gave Gregory a chance to adjust to the pace of college off the field and pack on some pounds that could help him better fulfill his responsibilities as a blocker as well as a runner.
While the Warriors on the active roster were away on road trips, he hit the weight room and followed the guidance of the strength staff to bulk up from 190 pounds to 207 this fall. With the added weight helping boost his confidence, he displayed power in running between the tackles and a burst on perimeter runs during spring practice and into fall camp.
"Now I can take on the big blocks. They’re not just throwing me around like they were doing last year," Gregory said. "I’m not taking as much of a beating as I was last year."