COUGAR TRACKS

What’s Next For BYU At Running Back Without Aidan Robbins?

Dec 12, 2023, 5:08 PM | Updated: 11:26 pm

BYU Football, Running Back, LJ Martin...

With Aidan Robbins moving on to the NFL Draft, LJ Martin looks to be a featured running back for BYU football in 2024. (Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

(Photo by Sam Hodde/Getty Images)

PROVO, Utah – After the departure of Aidan Robbins, where does BYU football go at running back?

Robbins announced on Tuesday that he is declaring for the 2024 NFL draft. The former Louisville and UNLV ballcarrier spent one year at BYU and came on strong in the season’s final weeks.

He exits the program after rushing for 485 yards in an injury-plagued year, where he wasn’t 100% until the win over Texas Tech in mid-October.

So what’s next?

LJ Martin looks to be the leader for BYU football into 2024

The good news for BYU is that they have a starting running back waiting in the wings. That’s LJ Martin.

Martin, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound, second-year player from El Paso, Texas, instantly was a difference-maker in fall camp last season. That success quickly sent him from fourth string to number two entering the season opener against Sam Houston.

After two weeks where Aidan Robbins struggled, BYU turned to Martin as the starter entering the Arkansas game due to “breaking more tackles.” It was later revealed that Robbins was dealing with a rib injury. But Martin showed well in the breakout win at Arkansas, popping one of the plays of the year for a grounded BYU run game, a 45-yard touchdown.

Martin scored four rushing touchdowns through his five games as a BYU Cougar. That was the most by a freshman since Luke Staley in 1999.

The departure of Robbins clears the runway for Martin to be the featured guy. With three years remaining, that might work better long-term for BYU as they continue trying to find their identity within the Big 12 Conference.

Martin finished with 518 rushing yards on 109 carries and four touchdowns.

After Martin where the questions reside for BYU at running back.

Transfer Portal options

They recently lost veteran Miles Davis to the transfer portal. Davis spent four years with the program and was viewed as a guy that Kalani Sitake believed had “mainstay” potential in the backfield. Perhaps BYU re-recruits the speedster back into the fold?

BYU has had success with transfer portal running backs. Ty’Son Williams, in 2019 from South Carolina, played in four games before suffering a season-ending injury. He went on to stick in the NFL. The same goes for Cal’s Chris Brooks, finding a landing spot in free agency with the Miami Dolphins. Robbins will look to do the same.

There are a lot of quality running backs in the transfer portal at the moment. It wouldn’t hurt BYU to pursue players who have competed in the Big 12 Conference and know what the league’s physicality looks like.

Iowa State’s Cartevious Norton, who had a touchdown run against BYU in November, is an intriguing prospect with two years of eligibility remaining. There’s also grad transfer Justin Johnson from West Virginia.

Wild Card

There’s a wild card to monitor in BYU’s running back unit. That’s Hinckley Folau Ropati. Ropati has been with the BYU program since 2020, after he joined the program as a Junior College transfer. He has one year of eligibility remaining.

Last season, he suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp that sidelined him. As of now, Ropati hasn’t entered the Transfer Portal. He wasn’t honored during BYU’s senior day festivities against Oklahoma in November.

Ropati was a spark out of the backfield during key November wins in 2022 against Boise State and Stanford. He totaled 195 yards (receiving and rushing) to lift BYU to two road victories.

Developing underclassmen

BYU does return Nukuluve Helu as a redshirt freshman that RB coach Harvey Unga is high on. They considered letting Helu compete in 2022 but opted to grey-shirt him. Then, last year, he was a redshirt candidate with the depth they had at running back entering the season.

Helu was a star at Tooele High School, where he had a late push from a handful of Power Five programs on the recruiting trail before signing with BYU. There’s talent, but he hasn’t played a collegiate snap yet.

BYU also returns former Utah State transfer Enoch Nawahine. The 2024 season will be Nawahine’s third in the program.

BYU running back RM’s

Former Ridgeline High standout Jovesa Damuni is coming off a mission. The 6-foot, 180-pound athlete played a variety of positions in his prep career. He returned home from serving his Latter-day Saint mission last fall. The 2023 season was a greyshirt year for Damuni, who will have four years of eligibility remaining in his collegiate career.

Former Provo High standout Dallin Havea could be another possibility. Havea was part of BYU’s 2021 recruiting class, where he signed as an athlete. He returned home from serving a mission last fall.

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 in the Big 12 Conference on X and Threads: @Mitch_Harper.

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What’s Next For BYU At Running Back Without Aidan Robbins?