Tony Alford Will Take His Running Back Room Over Anybody Else’s

The transfer portal and the one-time transfer waiver allowing immediate eligibility has changed college football in a number of different ways. On gamedays, it’s still the same sport it was, but it has changed how coaches have to operate on a day-to-day basis.

Development used to be part of the plan, and it was understood that it could take a couple of years for a player to be ready to play. So often anymore, players see development as delay. And at positions where only one player can play at a time, that delay becomes even more pronounced.

Quarterback is one of those positions where “development” can be a four-letter word. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wants to take a quarterback in every class because he knows he could lose one or two in any given year. Sometimes — as Day found out in the first four months after he took over as OSU’s head coach back in 2019, you can even lose three quarterbacks.

There is similar care and concern that goes into recruiting running backs. Running backs can share the workload, but oftentimes a guy who is good enough to be playing is still left watching somebody else get the majority of the reps.

If a player is doing too much watching from the sideline and not enough carrying of the ball, he may eventually carry himself into the transfer portal looking for a more active work environment.

The same can happen when a young player comes in and takes a job from an incumbent.

This is the exact situation that occurred last year for the Buckeyes, and it happened twice. It happened when redshirt freshman Miyan Williams opened the season as the Ohio State starter instead of former starter Master Teague. Then it happened a few weeks later when true freshman TreVeyon Henderson eventually wrested controls away from Williams.

Meanwhile, true freshman Evan Pryor came to OSU as one of the top running back recruits in the nation and he spent the year redshirting rather than playing.

That could have been a lot of turmoil at a position that didn’t end up being all that tumultuous for Ohio State running backs coach Tony Alford last year.

“Everyone’s got opinions about who you should take, how you should do this. I get it,” Alford said this spring. “But everyone doesn’t study it like we study it, either. So we’re going to do what feels necessary to do with our football program, our offense with coach Day. I’m going to do what I feel is necessary to do in my own room. Regardless of what everyone else is saying and everyone’s opinions.”

Williams started last season with 23 carries total and 202 yards rushing over the Buckeyes’ first two games. It then took him two more months to compile another 23 carries and 200+ rushing yards. Some of that was due to injury, but it was also because Henderson was now the starter.

Not everybody handles their role being diminished as well as Williams did last year. Nor as well as he handled it over the offseason and throughout spring camp. Part of that is because of the understanding that everybody is necessary if they are going to get where they want to be. They also happen to like each other an awful lot, which isn’t unimportant in this whole deal.

“As far as putting the room together, those guys are really close. They’re a freakishly close-knit group of guys,” Alford said. “When they leave this building, they’re always together. And they do stuff together all the time. And I think it’s just a testament to the selflessness that they all have. The understanding that they need one another. And they champion each other’s efforts. When you watch another guy score a touchdown, who’s generally the first ones to go congratulate them? It’s the other two guys.”

When Ohio State posts social media videos, it’s not unusual to see Williams and Henderson together. That same duo can be found featured prominently on tight end Gee Scott’s YouTube channel.

As they say, the family that uploads together, stays together.

And none of it is by accident.

“I just think it’s because it’s a mature group. And I think we’ve for the most part, we’ve been able to cultivate that type of culture dating back,” Alford said. “Now, I don’t know if I’ve ever had a room this close. But we’ve always had guys that kind of champion each other’s efforts. They help one another out. When Trey and Evan came in together, they were roommates. And they were roommates until they got all their NIL deals and started kind of doing their own thing. So those guys are real close. And when they first got here they leaned on Miyan a lot because he’s the only guy, well him and Master, were with the guys that were here prior to them.”

Pryor and Henderson recruited each other to Ohio State because they wanted to play together. They were early-adopters in the understanding of a running back’s workload and the need for talented teammates.

In recruiting, coaches have to find the players that will not only hold up to the competition, but stick with it. It’s a balancing act of wanting players to be patient, but not necessarily wanting them to sit back and wait their turn.

The Buckeyes will take the field this year with four scholarship running backs. All four will want to play, but they understand the math. They also understanding being ready when their number is called.

“I like to think we built a good room,” Alford said. “I think we’ve built a strong room. I know that doesn’t get talked about as much. We don’t get talked about a lot, and that’s fine. We don’t need to be. We know what we have and what we’re doing, whether people talk about it or not. But I think we’ve developed a really good room and in my personal opinion – I’m biased, I’m gonna throw that out there now – I think that from top to bottom, our room is as strong as anybody’s in the country.”