Chasing history: Jalen Hurd closing in on Vols' career rushing record

Chasing history: Jalen Hurd closing in on Vols' career rushing record

April 13th, 2016 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

RECORD BOOK

Jalen Hurd will have a realistic chance to break Tennessee’s career rushing record in 2016. His 2,187 yards his first two years with the Vols leaves him out of the top 10, but only 892 yards short of the top spot. Here’s a look at what’s ahead of Hurd in the record book:

1. Travis Henry (1997-2000): 3,078

2. Arian Foster (2005-08): 2,964

3. James Stewart (1991-94): 2,890

4. Johnnie Jones (1981-84): 2,852

5. Jamal Lewis (1997-99): 2,677

6. Cedric Houston (2001-04): 2,634

7. Jay Graham (1993-96): 2,609

8. Montario Hardesty (2005-09): 2,391

9. Curt Watson (1969-71): 2,364

10. Reggie Cobb (1987-89): 2,360

KNOXVILLE — Jalen Hurd stepped on Tennessee's campus two years ago with a lofty list of goals.

Whether it included becoming the program's all-time leading rusher, that record is within the realm of possibility for the big running back as he enters his junior season with the Volunteers.

After a 1,288-yard sophomore season in 2015, Hurd needs 892 yards in what in all likelihood will be his final season at Tennessee in 2016 to become the holder of one of the program's premier records and cement himself among any discussion of great Vols running backs.

"Yeah, I've definitely thought about that," Hurd said after Tuesday's practice. "That'd be amazing. That's definitely something that's a goal that I definitely wanted to do."

The 6-foot-3, 240-pound former five-star recruit is also on pace to break the program's record for career carries — Arian Foster currently tops that list with 650 — but his spring-practice workload has been very limited as the Vols hand more carries to John Kelly and walk-on Jayson Sparks than Hurd or fellow star Alvin Kamara.

Hurd isn't taking the spring off, though, regardless of how few live carries he's gotten in team periods. The focus for him this offseason is making more defenders miss beyond the line of scrimmage while improving his speed and explosiveness.

"He always is trying to get better," quarterback Josh Dobbs said. "I've seen his footwork improve. He's trying not to get tripped up by that one tackler. He's seeing the game well in pass protection, as he always has, so it's definitely great to have. Him and Alvin are pushing each other, and they're really doing a great job of helping J.K. (Kelly) come along."

When running backs coach Robert Gillespie had his backs review last season and pull five clips of plays they wish they could have back, Hurd chose runs where "second-level cuts" kept a long run from becoming a longer one.

"That's a linebacker in the hole," Hurd said. "You need to shake him up and make him miss. That's the mark of a great running back. One-on-one matchups, you win those."

Hurd's 2015 season — in registering Tennessee's 18th 1,000-yard season he had six 100-yard games and finished fourth in the SEC in rushing (99.1 yards per game) — was pretty good, but he'll tell you it could have been better.

"There were some times where he felt personally that he left some yards out there," head coach Butch Jones said. "Everything is creating space and the ability to make somebody miss in space, but also finish the runs. Jalen has a unique skill set. Jalen is a big back, but I always say he plays with the elusiveness of maybe somebody not his stature.

"He's a rarity when it comes to the skill set that he has. He's really worked hard on improving his skill set and evolving his skill set. That's the thing, is you can transform your game in spring football."

Hurd said he's been watching video of NFL running backs such as Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley and Adrian Peterson, and he spoke with Jamal Lewis when one of the best running backs in Tennessee history was on campus over the weekend.

Asked about Lewis, Hurd said he was a "big, powerful" running back who "had a little shake" to his running style.

"I think we're two different backs," he added. "I don't like to compare myself to really anyone, but I definitely like to take bits and pieces of a running back's game and try to put them into mine, something they might do a little bit better that I think I need to get better at."

Hurd certainly improved from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign, and a similar upward trend could see him run into the record books and help carry Tennessee into championship contention in 2016.

"It wasn't a specific goal, but you always have goals like that for yourself," Hurd said. "'Oh, if I could do that, that would be awesome.' Now that it's reachable, I definitely want to do that."

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com.