Last season, Mateo Durant ran for a single-season school-record 1,241 yards on his way to being named first-team All-ACC. That represents more than eighty percent of the total yardage gained by Duke running backs in 2021. Durant is now gone and that means Duke football has big shoes to fill at running back.
Durant was obviously THE guy last season. There is a logjam of those looking to be THE guy in 2022. Head coach Mike Elko feels there is a lot of internal competition, but doesn’t see only one guy emerging. He had this to say during a recent press conference posted to YouTube by CBS 17,
"“Sometimes you’ve got a bell cow. We had Mateo last year, he was a workhorse for this program, did a lot of great things. I don’t know if we’re going to get to that point this year.”"
Redshirt juniors Jordan Waters (197 yards in 2021) and Jaylen Coleman are the most experienced, but sophomore Jaquez Moore had a very good spring practice. Elko envisions more of a running-back-by-committee scenario and feels it is up to the coaching staff to figure out how to best utilize each player,
"“I think what we have is a lot of really good backs with a diverse skill set. I think we’re trying to figure out how to best utilize the group. I don’t know that one of them necessarily is going to step up and be THAT guy, but I do think collectively we’ve got a stable of guys who can be very productive for us.”"
A situation like this leaves room for a talented freshman to elbow his way into the stable of backs. Eric Weatherly could do just that. He was a top-100 running back in 247Sports’ Composite Rankings and is one of those recruits Elko was able to hang onto during the coaching change. He enrolled early, so he was able to take part in spring practice and learn the offense. Joining the program early also allowed him to add a bit of weight to his 5’8” frame.
Look for Elko to rotate a lot early in the season while he and the offensive staff try to figure out how best to use all of them. Filling those big shoes is not going to be easy and may take some time and patience.