Young Standouts Hurd (UT) and McKenzie (VT) Are Players to Watch for Battle at Bristol
Earning ACC Rookie of the Week honors following his college debut, Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie is quickly solidifying a spot for himself atop of the Hokies depth chart
The first Tech true freshman to rush for over 100 yards in his collegiate debut since Shyrone Stith in 1996, McKenzie scored in the Hokies first two games this season and recorded 51 yards in 12 carries in last week's loss to ACC rival Georgia Tech.
Although recovering from an ACL injury suffered during his senior year of high school, the Washington, Pa. native caught the attention of Head Coach Frank Beamer early in the 2014 season.
"I thought he looked impressive today," said Beamer following an August scrimmage. "He ran through a couple. You get tired of tackling that ol' boy. Whew. He's running strong."
The 5' 11", 220 pound rusher has continued to impress, becoming an integral part of Hokies Associate Head Coach and Running Backs Coach Shane Beamer's offense.
"I know Shane [Beamer] was talking about how we didn't run the ball as much last game and he wants to improve at least by 10 carries," McKenzie said ahead of the Saturday's contest against Western Michigan. "So trying to carry the ball at least 40 times [as a team] a game if we can."
As McKenzie's role in the offense grows, the Hokies are depending on their young star to help right a stalled 2014 campaign and lead them to future success including a win in their 2016 clash with the University of Tennessee at the Battle at Bristol, college football's largest game.
University of Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd continues to post record-breaking numbers in his first season with the Volunteers
The Hendersonville, Tenn. true freshman earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors following an 83 total yard, one touchdown performance in the team's Week 2 win over Arkansas State.
The second-leading freshman rusher in the SEC with 69.7 yards per game, Hurd's performance against No. 4 ranked Oklahoma was the best rushing game by a UT true freshman since Bryce Brown in 2009.
Consistent performances and continued improvement have earned the 6'3", 227-pound Hurd the respect of his quarterback, Justin Worley.
"Jalen's progessed a lot," Worley said following the Volunteer's Week 2 win over Arkansas State. "You may not see the yards per carry that he wants [and] that we want as an offense, but he gets those tough yards. He's done a great job of really embracing his role in protections and understanding week in, week out, where the different pressures are coming from."
And while senior Marlin Lane still ranks No. 1 on UT's depth chart, head coach Butch Jones is proud of the young player's development.
"He's gaining tough yards," Jones said following the team's loss to Oklahoma. "He's gaining the 3- and 4- yard runs and really lowering his center of gravity and his pad level. I've been proud of him. Now, we need to continue to grow and develop."
That growth and development will be key for Hurd and the rest of the young Vol football team as they take steps toward returning Tennessee to its former SEC glory and in just two years lead the team onto one of the sport's biggest stages at the 2016 Battle at Bristol, college football's largest game.