DevilsDigest: Coach, let's start with the running back signed in this year's recruiting class – Price Wilks. What can you tell us about him?
Tom Nordquist: "Seeing him on film during the recruiting season, he was productive, a guy that broke a lot of long runs. Played safety and linebacker too. A super kid that comes from a great family. He's quite an addition."
DD: The running backs were one of the lone bright spots on the 2003 team. How would you assess their performance?
TN: "We went through a lot of guys playing at the tailback position. Injuries dictated some of that. Probably the biggest surprise is seeing Loren Wade do as well as he did. Randy Hill got his feet wet playing a bunch…there's a good core of guys who are returning and have playing experience. I think as a coach, you're happy going into spring ball and the upcoming season with the core guys who understand the offense, saw some playing time, and know the expectations of their position."
DD: Hakim Hill is a player that in the past was fighting a lot of off the field issues, but last year seems to have all that under control. As his position coach, you must be pleased that he was able to put those matters aside and be the productive player that everybody thought he could be…
TN: "Like anybody else, players have their ups and downs. Personal reasons, academics, football, whatever it is…he's doing a good job right now. If he can play like he did against Oregon State, the guy would have a bright future. That's the Hakim Hill that we've all seen since day one when we were recruiting him. But we saw it just one time last year, so he needs to become more consistent."
DD: How will the new two tight end set impact the running backs position, if at all?
TN: "It doesn't for them. We're gonna run a lot of the same plays, but we'll just do it with different people. Obviously there's no more fullback, but it doesn't impact the tailback."
DD: When you talk about your running back philosophy, do you prefer the inside the tackles runner versus the running back who runs sweeps to the outside? Or do you need both type of players in today's game so you can have a chance of pace guy when you conduct substitutions?
TN: "You want a guy that can do it all. I don't prioritize desires or needs of a running back when we were recruiting by an inside versus outside runner. You wanna a guy that's productive. Some may be better at one phase or the other, but you just want guys that can produce on film however that may be."
"I don't know if any coach says that ‘we need a change of pace guy.' If you had a guy that hammers it inside, and the next guy that comes in happens to be a speed guy who gets the ball to the edge, yes it does look like he's a change of pace guy. But that's just what you've been dealt. I don't think I necessarily try to prioritize that the next guy coming in has to be different. The next guy coming in has to pick up where the other guy wasn't. That's my philosophy – put in guys that move the chains and do the things you ask them to do."
DD: When it comes to the number of carries by your running backs, do you prefer the running back who's the workhorse so to speak that carries 30 or more times in a game?
TN: "I do. Because of the amount of guys we've had here, who early on are deserving of equal carries as we're trying to evaluate them. Early in the season it had been close to an equal amount of carries. It's never exactly equal. But in my own desires or wishes, would be to have a guy that can carry it 20 times or so. If you carry it 40 times in a game, maybe you have two other guys that carry ten times apiece."
"I think a running back is a position where they need to get a feel of where the reads are coming from, the speed of the game…a lot of times you also need a guy on the team that can do it. Maybe you don't have a guy that can carry 20 times a game, and you need to mix it up. I've seen a lot of teams be able to run three backs in a game week after week and they all go deep in the number of carries, and they're all probably deserving them."
DD: So the saying that a running back gets better as a game goes along isn't a football cliché…
TN: "There's some truth to that provided the back is healthy, has his wind…obviously if he gets tired his performance as the game goes on will get worse. But if he's staying the course in terms of his conditioning and can carry the ball that many times, sure he should be able to get better as the game wears on."
"How the game is moving along will help dictate a lot of that as well. Are you in throwing mode because you're behind, or are you running on each down because you're up? Those are some of the few things that dictate. But for the most part, that is a true statement."
DD: You mentioned earlier that you were surprised about Loren Wade's production. What do you think made Loren so good in his first year, and what are you expecting from him in 2004?
TN: "His attitude and mindset, and I'm talking only about carrying the ball because there are other aspects of the game, when he gets the ball in his hand – he just wants to get the ball downhill right away. I asked him one time about that, and he said ‘that's just the way I was always coached in high school – to go now.' I don't mean he's just a straight-ahead runner – there are tracks, footwork you have to do. But that guy just wants to go north and south as fast as he can, and he's very physical when he does that."
"Sometimes he tries to maybe run guys over instead of attacking a guy the correct way, or making somebody miss. But he's a freshman and he'll only get better."
DD: Randy Hill seems likes the X-factor in this group. He may not get a lot of a carries, but when he does he does prove his worth.
TN: "That's hitting the nail right on the head, because the talk always seems to be about Loren or Hakim. Randy was another huge surprise. He has a lot of ability, but we went through five running backs so he didn't get that many carries. But his stats at the end of the year showed that he has a good yards per carry average. He knows how to be efficient with the ball, and likes to take the ball downhill."
DD: Cornel Canidate we're sure isn't the forgotten man in your book, and still has a chance to be productive as he was two years ago…
TN: "Sure. Let's not forget that he had the most carries against Washington State this past year. Like I said earlier, we went through all the running backs we had available. There's a batting order setting up that's determined on how guys perform on the practice field and the game field. You just have to keep on practicing, getting better, learning, and just compete everyday."
DD: What do you look to improve on from a running backs perspective as we enter spring practice?
TN: "Take the individual guys out of it, each guy will have something I want them to focus on as being the #1 thing, in terms of running the football I'd like us to be able to turn those 5-6 yard gains into 20-30 yard gains. You got to do that by making the last defender miss, break a tackle, get by that safety who's fitting in the hole and if you get by him you have a huge play. That would probably be the biggest thing as a group as runners."
"In terms of the passing game, because that's always the forgotten thing with running backs, I want them to be more consistent. I think the know their assignments pretty well. I just want them to be really physical pass protectors, pick up the blitzes, and obviously be a viable check down for the quarterback. You have to be consistent. You're not gonna get too many balls thrown to you in the course of the year, but when the ball is thrown to you have to make those catches. If we can do those things that will help."
"There's gonna be great competition and they have great attitudes. Hopefully we'll stay healthy and we'll go from there."
Q&A with Coach Tom Nordquist
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