This time last season, nothing looked too promising for incoming freshman Jody Webb in regards to playing for the Youngstown State University football team.
Even with the graduation of former tailback Jamaine Cook, the Penguins had backups. Torrian Pace was the starter. Adaris Bellamy rushed for more than 200 yards in the season opener against the University of Dayton. During the early portion of the season, Martin Ruiz opened some eyes.
Heading into the 2014 campaign, not only will Webb be a force in the backfield, but he also has a chance to start. He’s helping improve his game during spring practice along with Ruiz and Demond Hymes.
“It’s going really well,” Webb said. “I mean, we don’t have the most backs, so we’re getting a lot of reps, but that’s good for us. We get the plays down and just get into a rhythm and hopefully we can get it going.”
Everything fell into place last year that put Webb in his current situation. Pace struggled while Bellamy had unspecified issues and injuries after the first game.
What really stands in Webb’s way is Ruiz for the starting job, which will be hard to accomplish. Ruiz was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference’s (MVFC) Newcomer and Freshman of the Year in 2013. He was also a second-team All-MVFC selection.
“Honestly, we’re just getting in where we fit with everything,” Webb said regarding the competition. “They have certain plays where they like this guy to run or this guy to run. We’re just all trying to do our job.”
Webb played in 10 games and started twice last year. He rushed for 345 yards on 48 carries, averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored six times. He also caught four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
“He can do a little bit of both because he understands our passing game and the concepts of it,” Eric Gallon, YSU running backs coach, said. “He can get out on his routes, he can catch really well and he’s fast, which makes him very effective in the running game as well.”
Webb has the routes down pat. What he’s focusing on the most so far is blocking, mainly in the passing game. It also doesn’t help with a four-man quarterback race.
Gallon said he talked with Webb last year about his poor pass blocking. He added that learning the technique and wanting to do better is half the battle. Webb put on approximately 15 pounds in the offseason that should help.
“You know, I’m not the biggest guy, so I’m just trying to get my eyes right and my placement right so that I don’t get anybody killed in the backfield,” Webb said.
Another factor Webb’s slowly improving on is being a leader. With guys like Pace and former quarterback Kurt Hess gone, the search for leaders is a little complicated at the moment.
“He’s a quiet leader,” Gallon said. “He doesn’t really talk much. He’ll say something here and there, maybe with some of the guys, but other than that, along with Demond and Martin, they’re not that type of person yet. The team is still trying to find that guy who’s going to be that vocal.
“Jody can be outspoken at times, but it could be done a little more often because he’s the type of kid who knows what he’s doing on the field, and he produces.”
No matter how the backfield shapes up before the season opener at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Aug. 30, no matter if Webb is the starter or not, he could still be a huge force to be wrecking with. In the search of a new quarterback, he may have no choice.
“We’re trying to work with all of them [quarterbacks] because we don’t know who’s going to win the job,” Webb said. “We try to get them all in a rhythm in our offense. Our mindset is to just really make sure whoever is in, we’re going to sync with them, and they’re going to sync with the offense so that we don’t have any mental errors. That’s really it right now.”