Head start: Huff likes mental approach of MSU running backs

Mississippi State's Kylin Hill runs for a touchdown last season.

Staff Writer

Football games are won on the field but in the case of Mississippi State’s running backs, MSU run game coordinator Charles Huff believes his guys already have a head start because of what’s going on inside their helmets.

“Their maturity and their mentality is starting to get right where I want it to be at the beginning of a season,” Huff said. “We talked about in the summer, not only competing to be the best unit on this team, but the best unit in the country. They’ve really taken to that. Obviously they know everyone can’t carry the ball 100 times, but they’ve all taken to that.

“The way they’re attacking practice and the meetings has been impressive.”

It’s no surprise that a position coach would be praising his unit at this time of year. After all, the pads didn’t even go on for a practice session until this past Wednesday. It’s the time of year where everyone is optimistic.

However, there’s little reason to doubt Huff’s claims when it comes to MSU’s running back group. It’s a veteran bunch. Aeris Williams and Dontavian Lee are both seniors. Nick Gibson is a junior. Kylin Hill is the youngster of the group as a sophomore, but he had the second-most carries of any running back on the team a year ago.

“I’ve been blessed,” Huff said. “I’m taking over a room where everybody has been in a game.”

It’s a group with incredible upside. Williams was a preseason All-Southeastern Conference third team selection. He became MSU’s first running back 1,000-yard rusher since 2014 last year when he tallied 1,107 yards and six touchdowns.

Hill came to MSU prior to last season ranked as the nation’s No. 6 running back recruit according to 247Sports. He showed flashes of his brilliance last year as he averaged 5 yards per carry and was one of the conference’s best in yards after contact.

Those two guys – Williams and Hill – should see the bulk of the playing time this year. Most would call Williams the starter because of his senior status, but Huff said he doesn’t go so far as to name anyone a starter.

“I think a lot of times, people get caught up in that word ‘starter,’ and that word usually changes people’s work habits,” Huff said. “To me, it’s the same thing everywhere I’ve been. We don’t have a starter. There’s going to be a guy that goes out there first and there’s going to be a guy that goes out there the next play. If you’re in the game, you’re the starter. That’s kind of the mentality that I try and get those guys to take.

“The moment you name a starter, everyone behind them takes a second, third, fourth or fifth-type role. I don’t want that. Because you can name a starter today, then something happens and another one is in there. We need every guy to prepare as if they’re the starter and not coming out of the game.”

So far, Huff is encouraged that everyone in his running back room appears to be adapting his philosophy. That seems to bode well for MSU’s chances of rushing success in 2018.

In an offseason that has seen plenty of talk about new head coach Joe Moorhead’s offense and his tendency to like to pass, one shouldn’t underestimate the impact the running backs could, and likely will, have for the Bulldogs.

Huff doesn’t believe his group is a finished product. Far from it in fact. However, he’s sure liking where things currently stand.

“We’ve got a long way to go, don’t get us wrong, but we’re making strides," Huff said. "Coach Moorhead is always talking to us about making sure this day is better than yesterday. We’ve been stacking good days on top of each other. We’ve still got a lot of days to go, but we feel like we’re in a really good spot.”