Elite. Natural. Size.
Those are three words that were used repeatedly by running backs coach Chad Scott when describing a pair of incoming freshmen in Jaylen Anderson and Justin Johnson Jr. Both are still in high school, but Scott says once they get that diploma, it’s game time.
“As soon as those guys finish their schooling, man, we are going to start talking X’s and O’s right away. We’ll take it real slow and just take it from the basics of how to get lined up, footwork on run plays, what to look at,” Scott said. “So as soon as they finish high school, we will start introducing the offense to them before they even get here.”
Anderson has wrapped his senior season at Perry High School. In a shortened year, he rushed for 875 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had nine receptions for 124 yards and two scores. He was a four-year starter and was an All-State first-team selection the past two seasons. His junior year saw 1,086 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns accompanied by 51 catches for 833 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Illinois postponed its high school football season to the spring, so Johnson Jr. Is currently in action for Edwardsville High. According to MaxPreps, he has tallied 687 yards and a dozen TDs on 83 carries through four games. Heading into his final season, he had nearly 3,000 yards rushing and 37 touchdowns.
Both backs are over six feet tall and 200 pounds.
“That’s by design,” Scott said of their similar size. “We wanted two true running backs that can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. Both have really good size, great balance and they catch the ball naturally out of the backfield. With their build and their strength, they will at least come in and have the willingness to block. I’ll have to teach them the technique and whatnot.”
Scott says a big adjustment will be getting them to understand how to bring defenders to the block, but the toughest by far will be pass protection.
“They will pick up on the run game early, it will come naturally to them, but pass protection is not natural. They are not used to 230-240-pound guys coming at them,” he said. “Just understanding how to eliminate guys on defense. When we start talking scheme, that will be something we spend the majority of the time on.”
For any athlete transitioning their game to the collegiate level, the biggest challenge is adapting. They have formed habits and created their own way of achieving success since first picking up a football. Often players are accustomed to being one of the top players, if not the top, at the position on their team/in their local area.
While that is something Scott is prepared to tackle when the players arrive, he isn’t too worried about the habits Anderson and Johnson Jr. will bring to Morgantown.
“Those guys are so gifted coming out of high school, some of the things we teach they actually do instinctively right now. Watching both of them, they do a lot things right now naturally that I teach,” Scott said. “It will be a transition for them, more so from pass game and route running than it will be for the run game.”
The duo will have about eight weeks in the summer plus fall camp to take their game to the next level, and once strength and conditioning coach Mike Joseph gets a hold of them, their position coach says his confidence in the duo will continue to rise.
“With those guys being elite level running backs, it won’t take them as long,” Scott said.