MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – If you look closely enough, CJ Donaldson changed more about himself than his jersey number this offseason.
“My body has definitely changed tremendously from last year,” Donaldson said.
“I mean, just like body-fat wise, just me being able to control my bodyweight a little bit better. I eat way better than last year. My eating habits last year [were] terrible, but I definitely eat better. I’m definitely with the trainers a lot more with body maintenance, just like, things that are weaker on one side than the other. I’m definitely taking care of my body this year.”
This fall will be Donaldson’s first full camp as a running back – though he wouldn’t diminish himself to just one position – after converting from tight end last fall. A year later, he is trying to mirror the prototypical tailback mold, whether it be physically, or through running style
He mentioned Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb and Saquon Barkley as inspirations at running back from the NFL because of their longevity. As the value of running backs becomes a contention point in NFL discourse, those three continue to stay relatively healthy, thus collecting paychecks for longer than most.
Running backs who stay healthy make the most money, even with the financial state of the position in jeopardy.
“My body is my business,” he said. “When you see [the] things that are going on in the NFL with the running backs, so you definitely got to take care of your body. Your body [is] your business. Without a body, you have no value.”
Donaldson likes harsh truths, so when head coach Neal Brown approached him about improving his physique last year, he knew it was time to dig deeper in order to maximize his potential.
“[Brown] was point-blank with it: ‘CJ, you have to get in shape,'” Donaldson said. “I be with coach Mike [Joseph] running [and] doing extra…Even though it’s a pain, I know it will work out in the end.”
It’s one thing to elevate your training based off previous regiments, but Donaldson had to start from scratch following his season-ending ankle injury against TCU. Before he could improve on his body maintenance, he had to build it back up to a normal level while repairing his ankle.
Some positive reinforcement from associate director of sports medicine Zach Foster went a long way.
“It was real hard on me at first to buy into the process of me trying to come back and be healthy,” he said. “But [Foster] was real hard on me, telling me [that] if I just come here every day, and put in the necessary work, I’ll be back a whole month [or] two months before I needed to return, and I was back for the spring game and they allowed me to play. I was just real thankful with that.”
Donaldson scored a touchdown in the spring game, and now he holds sole possession of the top running back spot on the preseason depth chart. Offensive coordinator Chad Scott applauded Donaldson for his downhill rushing ability, and Donaldson knows he has to be a punishment-inducing runner.
With Donaldson standing at 6-foot-1-inch, there are business decisions that have to be made by defenders as to how to approach bringing him to the ground.
“That’s a tough tackle,” Donaldson said. “That’s 235 pounds coming at you every play. That’s hard.”