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Running Back U? New-era Aggies not there — yet

Taking a break from preparing to take UCD's running game to the next level are, from left, Taylor Mowry, Gabe Manzanares, Derek Baljeu, Justin Williams, offensive coordinator Kevin Daft, head coach Ron Gould, running backs coach Bryan Wright, Colton Silveria, Dalton Turay, Manusamoa Luuga and Kenny Brookins. Aggie running back Jonathan Maricic, not pictured, also is expected to contribute. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

By
From page B1 | August 18, 2013 |

It’s not Running Back U … yet.

However, from a UC Davis backfield that could be called Crowded House during these summer workouts, there is sure to emerge a head-turning ground game once the Aggie season opens in less than two weeks at South Dakota.

You see, new head coach Ron Gould has the Midas Touch when it comes to ball-carriers. And his RB assistant Bryan Wright seems to have embraced all things Gould in teaching his Aggie players.

It’s well-documented that Gould — in 16 seasons at Cal — put a baker’s dozen running backs on NFL rosters.

With former Golden Bears like Shane Vereen, Jahvid Best, Justin Forsett, J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch having made their bones as pros (and current rookies C.J. Anderson of the Denver Broncos and the St. Louis Rams’ Eric Stevens making preseason noise this summer), Gould has proved his ability as a top-flight mentor.

After two weeks of camp, Wright and Gould like what they see from their eight-man corps of running backs. The pair agree that the intensity, energy and ability is there and that competition for playing time has been healthy.

The question leading into the Aug. 31 season opener? Who will start and how will the others fit into the rotation?

Gould says playing time will work itself out.

Fullback Dalton Turay and tailback Colton Silveria have provided veteran leadership and looked solid in practice, Wright tells The Enterprise. But freshmen Justin Williams (El Camino, Oceanside) and Manu Luuga (Long Beach Poly) are Gould recruits who apparently have the right stuff while getting good reviews.

“Justin is a fierce competitor,” Gould says. “He’s tough as all nails … very passionate about the game.

“Manu is athletic and played at a very high level, competing against top talent every year. He knows what it is to play before big crowds, and play with a lot talent around him.”

Wright says Silveria, who led the Aggies with 621 yards rushing last season, has a veteran aura about him that inspires the younger players.

“Colton comes with a lot of experience … (he’s) one of our leaders,” explains the first-year Aggie assistant who spent the past five years at Michigan. “And to come back as strong as he has (from a hip injury) says a lot about Colton. He exudes Aggie Pride and strength.”

Given his success developing next-level running backs (guys who blew it up in college, too), what does Gould think makes for a good running back?

“A guy that has a little edge to him, call it competitive spirit. The guy has to have some football savvy, some toughness. (A good running back) is someone who makes plays when things break down; a guy that has a burning desire to have the ball in his hands. He wants it.”

In assessing recruits, what are Gould and Wright looking for?

“First and foremost, a high-character kid,” Gould says. “And academics are very important to us. Sure, some ability, but a guy that’s competitive, I mean super-competitive.”

That could be any one of the eight Aggies looking to carry the colors this fall.

Running backs Taylor Mowry (Westlake High, Agoura Hills), Gabe Manzanares (San Francisco CC), Kenny Brookins (Parker, Chula Vista), Jonathan Maricic (Elsinore) and Derek Baljeu (Edison, Huntington Beach) have each shown hot hands in at least one workout, and give UCD quality depth at a position at which it has struggled in recent seasons.

For Silveria, Gould’s style contrasts vividly to that of retired Aggie coach Bob Biggs.

“There’s a big difference in the speed of practice,” the Shasta Lake native says. “We’re almost replicating game speed in practice. And we’re doing it every day. It’s something I’ve never felt before.

“It’s really good to feel that in practice — that way we’re not going to be shocked (at the pace) in the game.”

Williams, who set El Camino single season (2,345 yards and 24 touchdowns) and career (3,660) rushing marks, agrees with Silveria, emphasizing this isn’t high school anymore …

“The difference? Tempo. We’re getting maximum reps in. Coach Wright and coach Gould are pushing us to become better backs. Every thing is game-speed, game-speed. If you’re not included in the play, go find some work, go hit someone.”

Williams (5-9,202) was heavily recruited (by San Diego State, Fresno State and Nevada, among others), but chose the new regime at Davis.

“When I took my visit to UCD, I felt it was the place for me in terms of an education … and being able to play for coach Wright and the legendary coach Gould,” Williams adds.

Over the past 10 years, UCD has rushed for about 12,000 yards. During the same period, Gould’s crew in Berkeley had gone for more than 23,000 yards.

All that said, will local fans see an exciting running game as early as this season? An attack that’s the hallmark of Aggie years to come?

“Absolutely,” says Gould, keeping secret exactly what kind of offense is being fine-tuned. “To me, it’s still about balance. We have to (pass and run), but in the future I’d love to have Aggie Nation see the run game emerge here.”

Wright can already feel that new rumble on the ground …

“Is this Running Back U?” the running backs coach repeats the question. “I like to think so. It’s been a quarterback-dominated university … but the backs are here. We think of the running backs as the heart of the offense.”

Now, to figure out who gets to carry the mail.

Notes: Fan Fest is Saturday. The new event replaces the Blue-Gold Scrimmage, but Gould has opened the morning (10:15 a.m.-12:20 p.m.) practice to the public. Not only will folks be allowed on Sochor Field at Aggie Stadium for a meet-and-greet with coaches and players, they’ll be able to get autographs and have pictures taken with the players. According to UCD officials, “more interactive activities are planned.” The Aggie Pride Outlet will be selling old UCD uniforms and other memorabilia. … There was a scary moment in practice Saturday morning when safety Aaryn Jones went down in a heap after making a nifty interception. Jones was down for a couple of minutes, attended by staff. It was apparently a shoulder injury, but Jones quickly shrugged off the effects and was his normal, menacing self a few snaps later. … The Aggies visited the Shriners Children’s Hospital in Sacramento on Thursday. … Wright was a graduate offensive assistant at Michigan last year. … Former Davis High standout Courtney Williams (who had a terrific freshman season for UCD) is out for the year with a knee injury. Otherwise the intrigue for playing time at tailback would have been even thicker. … Offensive lineman Ian Joseph (6-6, 300) celebrated his 21st birthday Saturday and his teammates sang to him at midfield after practice. Mercifully, there are no recording contracts in the offing for this Aggie team. … Former Aggie Colton Schmidt punted three times for an average of 48 yards for the San Francisco 49ers in Friday’s 15-13 exhibition win over Kansas City. One of his boots went 62 yards.

— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at [email protected] or 530-747-8047.

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