Less than a week into fall camp, the position battle at running back is becoming a bit more clear.
That’s because third-year rusher Sampson James has decided to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal, according to reports from Rivals and other outlets, bowing out of the competition for carries on a fluid backfield depth chart. In two seasons with the program, the former four-star recruit rushed for 371 yards and three touchdowns on 113 carries (3.3 average). His lasting highlight with the Hoosiers came during the 2019 Old Oaken Bucket Game when he amassed 118 yards on 22 carries with one touchdown in his first career start.
This is the second time that James has looked to leave Indiana. In early March 2020, he entered his name into the NCAA Transfer Portal, considering his departure for four days before ultimately electing to return. Last season, however, he rushed for just 96 yards on 32 touches while serving as the backup to Stevie Scott.
Three years after flipping his commitment from Ohio State, the situation in Bloomington is also much different than the one James signed up for. Former IU strength coach David Ballou, a mentor of James from their shared time at Avon High School, left after the 2019 season for a similar role at Alabama. Meanwhile, Mike Hart, James’ position coach for his first two seasons at IU, left for Michigan after last season.
Although we haven’t heard from James yet, the timing of his decision could indicate a couple things. Perhaps he wasn’t on the same page with new IU running backs coach Deland McCullough, who returned in February to serve his second stint with the program. It could also mean that, after a handful of practices, others in the backfield, such as Tim Baldwin and USC transfer Stephen Carr, are ahead of James in the running back battle.
In addition to Baldwin and Carr, IU is evaluating fellow scholarship backs David Ellis, a junior, and freshmen David Holloman, Trent Howland. It’s also believed that walk-ons Charlie Spegal and Davion Ervin-Poindexter will also be competing for roles this month.