Andrew Jones is sure of it. Lavon Coleman can fill Washington’s gaping hole at tailback.
“From what I know about Lavon, he can be the workhorse,” said Jones, who coached Coleman four years at Lompoc High in Southern California. “I really do think he can be. He can carry the load and he can take 25-30 carries if need be.”
At Washington, Coleman is the mystery man in a quartet of running backs — ‘The Core Four’ — vying to replace UW’s record-breaking Bishop Sankey, who was taken in the second round of the NFL draft by the Tennessee Titans.
“One of the things everybody is worried about is Bishop Sankey is gone,” Husky running back coach Keith Bhonapha said. “But I’m glad to walk in the room and see we have guys who can make plays and it’s not just an empty cupboard.”
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Dwayne Washington, a 6-foot-2, 219-pound sophomore, might get the first carry when the Huskies open the season Saturday at Hawaii. The converted receiver had 47 carries for 332 yards and four touchdowns last season, which is the most rushing yards among the returners. He also displayed promise against Oregon State while rushing 11 times for 141 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown.
“It’s very unique at the running-back position to get a guy that big and that powerful and that fast,” Bhonapha said. “It’s something special. He’s still learning the position, but he’s taken drastic steps from when I got here in the spring to right now.”
Seniors Deontae Cooper and Jessie Callier were solid in mop-up duties last year while returning from season-ending knee injuries. However, both expect their roles to expand this season.
“That was kind of an inspirational story and it’s great, but I’m putting that behind me,” said Cooper, whose injury-riddled career includes three ACL surgeries. “Now I’m getting it going. The mentality is I’m ready to go. There’s no longer the ‘Let’s get him healthy and get him through the season.’
“It was a great story, but now it’s time to make a new story.”
Cooper carried 43 times for 270 yards and three touchdowns last season. He also had a breakout game against Oregon State while tallying 166 yards on 11 carries, including a 70-yard touchdown scamper.
Meanwhile, Callier wants to end his UW career on a high note. He ran for 433 yards as a freshman in 2010 but Sankey’s emergence stunted his development. A knee injury forced Callier to miss the 2012 season.
“I bring experience and leadership,” said the 5-10, 206-pound fifth-year senior who had 48 carries, 213 yards and three touchdowns last season. “This is definitely my last season and knowing that I want to make it special.”
Then there’s Coleman. The 5-11, 217-pound redshirt freshman sat out last season but impressed Husky fans during the final open spring scrimmage this year when he ran for 99 yards on 18 carries. He capped the spring drills with a thrilling 47-yard touchdown run on the final play.
Coleman can’t talk about what he’s expecting of himself since Washington does not allow its freshman players to speak with the media.
“He’s a hard worker,” Bhonapha said. “He’s one of those guys that you’d expect to go in there even if he’s dinged. He’s going to catch his breath and hop back in there. He’s a tough football player. A tough, hard-nosed guy and if he’s gotten the opportunity to get 30-35 carries, he would be fine.”
At Lompoc High, Coleman was known as “The Beast” or “The Juggernaut.” Washington offered him a scholarship after his junior season when he ran for 2,038 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He picked the Huskies over UCLA, California, Arizona and Washington State. As a senior in 2012, Coleman missed six games due to a thigh contusion but still rushed for 887 yards and nine touchdowns in seven games.
“He has that combination of power and speed,” Jones said. “He’s a between-the-tackle, power-running game type of back that has the ability to break the long run. He’s a grinder. He’ll grind out games and wear defenses down. He’s not going to pitter patter around and hit a bunch of circle and triangle buttons on the video game. He’ll just lower his shoulder and go.”
Twenty-three years ago, Washington dipped into Lompoc High and pulled out Napoleon Kaufman, the Husky Hall of Famer and school-record holder with 4,106 career rushing yards.
“Lavon knows the history with Napoleon,” Jones said. “Napoleon has been a mentor and has helped Lavon with the transition up there. …
“I’m not going to say Lavon is going to do what Napoleon did, but I’m not surprised in the least bit at what he’s doing. He’s got the potential to carry the load and be very productive. There’s no doubt in my mind.”