Let’s call it “The Richard Newton Conundrum.”
His biggest strength (physicality) and weakness (durability) are inextricably intertwined.
In four-plus seasons in Seattle, Newton has succeeded — in part — because of his ability to barrel through tackle attempts … and his willingness to accept the side effects. He has rushed for 758 yards and 4.2 yards per carry with 14 total touchdowns, leading the Huskies with 11 scores in 2019.
But since his freshman year of high school, the 6-foot, 212-pound running back has also broken his arm, underwent a pair of shoulder surgeries, sprained his foot and torn his ACL. He has missed 25 of a possible 43 UW games due to injury (though he likely would have redshirted in 2018 anyway).
This, he says, is the cost of doing business — particularly at a position where car crashes are required.
“I guess that’s just football, man. It’s the nature of the sport, part of the game,” Newton said Wednesday, following UW’s sixth practice of preseason camp. “The only thing I could do is keep coming back stronger, and that’s what I’ve been doing through all these injuries I’ve been having. I’m just trying to come back stronger and be more explosive and be that supportive role for the team when I’m not good. When I’m healthy and I can go, it’s time to go.
“That’s been my mindset. It’s a setback, but it’s just another roadblock for me to step over.”
For the fifth-year junior running back, roadblocks have been rampant — and his affinity for wreckage hasn’t helped. Like former Seahawks running back Chris Carson, who was forced to retire this offseason due to a neck injury at age 27, Newton specializes in a mercilessly brutal brand of football. The Lancaster, California, product craves contact — like a firefighter running into the flames.
A fearless physicality has brought Newton this far. A more measured approach may take him further.
“Obviously, I want to avoid the hits I can avoid,” he said, nearly 10 months after tearing his ACL on his first touch against UCLA. “But for me, one of the beautiful things about this game is being able to inflict violence on other people. The contact part of it, I love it. But I’m not trying to prove anything to anyone anymore, as far as how violent I am. I’m trying to score touchdowns.
“When I have to put my head down and get the grind yards, I will. But obviously I want to make people miss now. I want to show that side, too. Because I do have that in my bag.”
We’re about to find out whose bag is biggest. In a system that demands versatility, seven scholarship running backs are vying for available reps: transfers Wayne Taulapapa, Will Nixon and Aaron Dumas, and returners Newton, Cameron Davis, Jay’Veon Sunday and Sam Adams II. UW coach Kalen DeBoer is searching for diverse skill sets, polished runners who can also catch passes out of the backfield and pick up a blitz.
Newton — who played slot receiver as a freshman at Palmdale High School — said, “I love this new system, man. Just putting us out wide, giving us receiver routes, I love everything about that. I want to be versatile as a back — catching the ball out of the backfield, wide zones, inside zones. I feel like the offense is going to get rolling this year and put up a lot of points, and we’re going to beat a lot of people.”
But which running backs will ultimately roll? Taulapapa, Nixon and Adams took the majority of scrimmage reps in UW’s first six preseason practices, though DeBoer and Co. claim that’s largely to evaluate players who couldn’t participate in the spring. Newton, meanwhile, has participated in individual drills but isn’t yet cleared for full contact.
Which means, with barely three weeks before the opener against Kent State on Sept. 3, UW’s running-back depth chart remains a mystery.
Though Newton, for one, isn’t sweating the increased competition.
“I’m not worried about anything like that,” he said. “I love the competitive nature of the room now. I think it just pushes everyone harder. That’s all I ever wanted, a competitive room and everyone fighting and scratching and clawing for those reps. I think that just brings the best out of all of us.
“But as far as me being worried about playing time, I’m not worried about anything like that. I’m just trying to get back, trying to get healthy and trying to be the guy for this team.”
“The Richard Newton Conundrum” isn’t easily solved. He could sacrifice physicality for durability … and in doing so, surrender his greatest strength. Or he could accumulate car crashes until his body breaks again … which might happen sooner rather than later.
Still, on Wednesday, a smiling Newton didn’t seem concerned.
“We’re here now,” he said, standing in the northwest corner of Husky Stadium, with a pair of diamond studs adorning each ear. “I’m running, getting healthy. I’m blessed, man. I’m blessed.”
- A day after UW junior defensive lineman and assumed starter Ulumoo Ale was carted out of the Dempsey Indoor Center with an air brace around his left leg, the 6-foot-6, 333-pound converted left guard was seen walking on the field with a bulky brace around the same leg following Thursday’s practice. Media members were not permitted to watch the practice, but it’s clear Ale — who was not in uniform — did not participate. But though he declined to provide a detailed update Thursday, defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield did offer that “I’m confident he’ll be back.” Head coach Kalen DeBoer will undoubtedly be asked for Ale’s status when he’s next available following Saturday’s scrimmage.