COUGAR TRACKS

BYU Football Running Back Position Analysis For 2023 Season

May 10, 2023, 4:01 PM | Updated: May 18, 2023, 1:02 pm

BYU Football, Miles Davis, Running Back...

Miles Davis will be competing for playing time in the BYU football running back unit in 2023. (Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

(Nate Edwards/BYU Photo)

PROVO, Utah – During Kalani Sitake’s time as head coach, BYU football has produced four running backs who have earned NFL opportunities.

Jamaal Williams became the Detroit Lions single-season rushing touchdowns leader a year ago, while rookie Tyler Allgeier rushed for over 1,000 yards with the Atlanta Falcons. Meanwhile, Ty’Son Williams has bounced around the league for a few years. Then most recently, Chris Brooks signed an undrafted free-agent contract with the Miami Dolphins.

BYU is quietly building a nice pipeline of running backs in recent seasons. However, with Brooks moving on to the NFL, BYU is searching for the next featured running back as they head into the Big 12.

Personnel snapshot

Gone from the 2022 roster: Christopher Brooks (NFL UDFA, Miami Dolphins), Lopini Katoa (Graduation), Jackson McChesney (Graduation), Beau Robinson

Returning: Hinckley Folau Ropati (Sr.), Miles Davis (Soph.), Enoch Nawahine (Soph.)

Position changes: Mason Fakahua (TE), Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters (From QB to RB), Morgan Pyper (From LB to RB)

Newcomers: Aidan Robbins (UNLV/Louisville), Deion Smith (Colorado), Nukuluve Helu (RM/Grayshirt), LJ Martin (Fr.)

Editor’s Note: After the publication of this story, BYU picked up a commitment from Colorado’s Deion Smith.

Aidan Robbins arrives at BYU

One of the underrated aspects of BYU’s offense last season was the yards per carry from Chris Brooks. Brooks, who dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, averaged 6.25 yards per carry a season ago for BYU. That was a better yards per carry than Tyler Allgeier in 2021 (5.8).

The loss of Brooks doesn’t leave massive shoes to fill, but he was a productive player in his one year for BYU.

He was another example of the transfer portal feeding BYU a talented running back. They hope to have another in UNLV transfer Aidan Robbins. Robbins comes to BYU as a graduate transfer with two years of eligibility remaining.

Last year at UNLV, Robbins rushed for 1,009 yards and nine touchdowns. He also hauled in 23 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown.

When Robbins entered the portal, BYU was the first team to contact him. Robbins told KSL Sports during the spring that BYU as his next destination was on his mind before entering the portal. He had a previous relationship with BYU’s offensive staff as a prep recruit. Robbins nearly signed with BYU out of high school but opted to play for the hometown Louisville Cardinals instead.

Those relationships Robbins built with BYU in high school have continued throughout his college career. He even told KSL Sports he still has a solid relationship with former BYU stars Zach Wilson and Micah Simon. They were some of the players that hosted him on his visit back in 2019.

During spring practice, Robbins didn’t participate in any team portions of camp due to wrist surgery he had in January. But according to OC Aaron Roderick, he took part in everything else. Robbins took “mental reps” and learned everything he could with BYU’s playbook during spring practice.

At 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, Robbins has the build to be a featured rusher in BYU’s offense and could be a 1,000-yard rusher for the Cougars this fall. He’s the favorite to be RB1 when BYU kicks off the season against Sam Houston on September 2.

Next in line

While Robbins was recovering from the hand/wrist surgery, the opportunity for first-team reps was up for grabs during spring practice. Instead, a pair of returning players from last year’s backfield took the bulk of first and second-team reps at running back.

That would be Hinckley Folau Ropati and Miles Davis.

Both players have proven to be impact performers for BYU in games. Last season, Ropati, whom teammates refer to by his middle name of “Folau,” put together breakout performances in the regular season’s final month. He had 82 receiving yards out of the backfield and another 28 yards on the ground in an upset win over Boise State.

Then three weeks later, he rushed for 85 yards on nine carries against Stanford and took care of the football. Early in Ropati’s career, and in the Notre Dame game, he had issues with ball security.

Ropati has the potential to fill the role left behind by Lopini Katoa. Katoa was always a reliable pass catcher for BYU out of the backfield but fell out of favor due to his ball security issues last season.

Miles Davis had a career night against Wyoming last September in replace of an injured Chris Brooks. He racked up 131 yards on 13 carries. At that moment, people were ready to say he was the next breakout star for BYU in the backfield.

The following week against Utah State, he suffered a shin injury and didn’t have another big game the rest of the year.

Davis has garnered high praise from BYU coaches in previous seasons. During fall camp in 2021, he emerged as a potential backup to Allgeier but suffered a foot injury that sidelined him.

Both Davis and Ropati have shown flashes of their potential, but it’s never been sustained week after week. That’s why Robbins was an essential addition out of the portal for BYU. But if healthy, each has shown they can make plays in various ways for BYU’s offense.

Stanford flip

After BYU defeated Stanford in Palo Alto on November 26, Cardinal coach David Shaw immediately announced his resignation as head coach. When Shaw resigned, it signaled another win for BYU against Stanford, opening the door for BYU to get into the mix for El Paso, Texas, running back prospect LJ Martin.

Martin was once committed to Stanford, but shortly after Shaw stepped down, he flipped his pledge to BYU.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound running back signed with BYU last December, but he wanted to hold off on the announcement until February to have a ceremony at his school.

There are high expectations for Martin to come in and compete immediately for playing time.

“We’ll see what LJ (Martin) brings too. He’s another one that’s an interesting guy,” said Roderick when asked which summer additions could have a chance at playing time in the 2023 season.

Martin is a big, physical runner who racked up 6,150 yards during his four years at the varsity level in Texas High School football.

Rounding out the rest of the group

Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters was another running back that had a productive spring until he suffered a non-contact knee injury on March 17. BYU coaches said the injury was precautionary and that he would be back for the fall. Maiava-Peters has added some weight to his frame since his performance as the starting QB in the New Mexico Bowl win over SMU.

Former Utah State transfer Enoch Nawahine had some nice touchdown runs during media windows of spring ball. He scored a touchdown to cap off a two-minute drill drive. His teammates swarmed him to celebrate his big play. He invites a lot of contact in his running style.

Nukuluve Helu, a freshman from Tooele High School, is a developmental player to watch. Helu served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then grayshirted last season. Harvey Unga considered letting him compete last season for playing time but held off to maintain his eligibility after returning from a mission.

Projected Depth Chart at RB for BYU Football

Aidan Robbins

Hinckley Folau Ropati

Miles Davis

LJ Martin

Sol-Jay Maiava-Peters

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Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow Mitch’s coverage of BYU moving to the Big 12 Conference on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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BYU Football Running Back Position Analysis For 2023 Season