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No running scared: Playing hurt gains Whaley, Boyd respect

by Tom Murphy | August 4, 2019 at 3:40 a.m.
Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas running back, works out Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019, during Arkansas football practice in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- University of Arkansas running backs coach Jeff Traylor had two big takeaways from top tailbacks Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley last season.

They weren't highlight-reel runs, 100-yard games or great blitz pickups, although Whaley and Boyd pulled off plenty of those.

Traylor's takes revolved around how Boyd and Whaley played through pain and sacrificed for the team in the face of adversity in 2018.

"The shoulder, he was just holding on," Traylor said of Boyd, who had 100-yard games against Alabama (15 carries, 102 yards), Ole Miss (7-109) and Vanderbilt (19-113) during a four-game span, with a 99-yard effort against Tulsa among the stretch.

Boyd injured his lower back halfway through the Ole Miss game and could not return, then dinged his shoulder along the way. He kept on trucking until needing surgery on his right labrum after the season.

"The labrum, a rotator cuff, is not something that's easy to play through, and the kid played through it," Traylor said. "Two major surgeries. And now he's 18 pounds heavier."

Whaley missed two games after suffering a concussion early in the year, then needed surgery to repair an ankle late in the season. He made a limited appearance against Mississippi State in Week 11, then delivered a team-high 54 rushing yards and 97 yards from scrimmage during the rainy, cold finale in a 38-0 loss at Missouri.

"He's a kid we're all rooting for," Traylor said. "He's high character, high intelligence.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eu2lRGdeyZI]

"And this is something I don't think people pay enough attention to: You know he came back for that Missouri game. Most players don't come back for that game. They just stay out. It was cold, rainy, a tough opponent. We were getting our teeth kicked in. And Devwah showed up and made plays and was a bright spot in the game.

"Those kind of things resonate with me. It's easy to play ... when it's 72 and partly cloudy. But when you're playing in those conditions, coming off an injury, much respect for Devwah."

A healthy Boyd and Whaley are now leaders in a running back room that looks like a position of great depth for the Razorbacks.

Whaley said his return for the finale after a rough season was a way to show his character.

"I'm not the type of person who cares about himself," Whaley said at UA's media day Saturday. "I'm a team player. At the end of the day, I'm going to go out there and do what I need to do. I'm going to do my best no matter what, and I'm always going to put the team first."

Whaley, a native of Beaumont, Texas, enters his senior season at 5-11, 212 pounds, and with 1,439 career rushing yards and 12 touchdowns. He ran for a career-low 368 yards in 2018.

Boyd, a 6-foot, 213-pound junior, ran for a team-high 729 yards and two touchdowns last season. He averaged 6.0 yards per carry.

Boyd, of Houston, said it was nice to hear Traylor's praise.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAY0DTqfmOY]

"It means a lot because you've got a lot of guys around this program that are putting everything on the line and are willing to do anything to win at this point," Boyd said. "That's what we've got to keep doing."

Whaley said tailbacks have to be prepared for the grind of a season.

"We're all tough," he said. "We all have that mindset, especially us being from Texas. That's just how we were and how we've always been coached, especially playing in Texas. Texas football period, that's just how we came up."

The tailback spot is well populated to open camp. Junior Chase Hayden, a 5-10, 205-pounder, showed plenty of promise while rushing for 326 yards and 4 touchdowns and averaging 5.3 yards per carry as a true freshman in 2017 before going down with a leg injury.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6U9pcjYoplI]

Hayden, who shouldered much of the load this spring while Boyd and Whaley were rehabbing, has 577 rushing yards in two seasons.

"I feel like it's one of the deepest positions on the team," Hayden said. "You've got a lot of guys that have played a lot of snaps. It's a pretty deep position."

Junior T.J. Hammonds is back from an academic hiatus, and freshman A'Montae Spivey is on board to learn the ropes from the veterans.

"I think all of us rotating wouldn't be had," Boyd said. "One gets tired, next one goes in. We're all cool with each other. We're just competing."

[RELATED: See more video from the Razorbacks' Media Day at https://www.arkansasonline.com/84mediaday/]

Traylor said Boyd is poised for a big season.

"He's confident," he said. "He had a lot of success last year, and he's bigger and he's stronger and faster and he knows the offense. He's feeling like he's going to have a great year, and we are too."

Traylor added that the position's depth is a must.

"We've got three returners in Devwah, Chase and Rakeem, and that helps," he said. "A'Montae's been here all summer. T.J.'s back in the room. He knows the offense.

"We feel good. Now we've been injured quite a bit. How healthy can they stay is really the question. They're all rolling right now. But when you coach that position, every day you're expecting somebody to be in that training room.

"It's going to be the next man up. I've got to develop five or six of them to get through the season."

Coach Chad Morris said getting production from the tailback position is key, no matter from whom it comes.

"It's all about putting that ball in the end zone," he said. "Whoever can get that ball in the end zone the best is who is gonna play. Can't get the ball in the end zone, can't play.

"We do have depth, and we're blessed at that position. You know as well as I do the physicality of this league, so you're gonna need depth at that position."

Sports on 08/04/2019

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