If there’s one position group where talent isn’t a concern it’s the running back group. Head coach Tom Allen and running backs coach Mike Hart have done a good job of recruiting at the position and have stocked the depth chart behind starter Stevie Scott III with some of the highest-rated recruits in IU history as well some potential diamonds in the rough.
Players to Watch
Stevie Scott III, sophomore - He didn’t come to Bloomington with a ton of hype, ranked as the No. 89 running back in the country by 247 Sports. Despite this he burst on the scene, taking the bulk of the carries for IU and setting school records for a true freshman with 1,137 yards, 10 touchdowns and six 100-yard games. He was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection and IU’s Offensive Newcomer of the Year. This year he’s expected to take the next step and become one of the best backs in the Big Ten. He’s one of the more exciting players on the roster and one of the biggest reasons to be excited about this IU team.
Ronnie Walker Jr., sophomore - Scott’s classmate, Walker was more heralded coming out of high school. He signed as one of the highest-rated recruits in modern history for the program and there was hype around him because of it. That might have been the reason why there was a bit of confusion as to why he got as little playing time as he did last season. He played in nine games as a freshman, but he got more than three carries in just four of them. In those games he played pretty well, averaging at least 4.6 yards per carry (if not more) in each one of them. He also showed his big play ability with touchdowns against Ball State and Penn State.
Sampson James, freshman - If there’s a hype train to be found around Bloomington it’s probably centered around James. He showed big play ability during his time at Avon High School, enough so that he was set to play for Ohio State before flipping to IU. In signing with IU he became the program’s second-highest rated signee of all-time behind just Stephen Williams back in 2000. He might not be the starter this year in Bloomington, but he should be able to play his way onto the field more and more as the season progresses.
Cole Gest, redshirt junior - Gest suffered an ACL tear last year in the first game of the season. He got just five carries, tallying 17 yards and making one catch for 10 yards before going down. In his one full season as a Hoosier he was a serviceable backup. 2017 saw him play in 10 games, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 8.3 yards per catch and totaling a pair of touchdowns. Gest could also be an option to return kicks and punts.
Ivory Winters, freshman - If you’re looking for a battering ram among the IU backups here’s your guy. He’s listed at six-feet tall, 215 pounds and played defensive line in high school. Despite the size he’s also got athleticism. He was a two-time all-district power forward and also a member of a state championship-winning 4x100m relay team in high school. As a senior he posted 2,700 yards, scores 59 touchdowns and his team won a 1A state title with a perfect record. He was the 21st-ranked prospect in the state of Missouri and the 59th-ranked running back in the nation. He chose IU over Kentucky, Purdue and Arkansas among others.
Battle to Watch
We know that Scott is the guy here. He’s more than earned the title of lead back. The thing to look out for is which player will serve as his deputy in the run game. Gest has experience on his side and seemed to be a favorite of the coaching staff back in 2017 when he got nearly 100 carries. The downside is that he’s suffered a pair of season-ending injuries during his time at IU and his size doesn’t exactly scream durability, which could limit his ability to be relied upon to spell Scott in the backfield.
Walker and James are the high-upside choices as their big play ability could allow them to have an impact in shorter bursts. The other youngster, Winters, could potentially play a role as a short-yardage back.