Although he has performed in relative national obscurity because of the recent struggles of the Iowa Football program, Ladell Betts gained 1,040 yards last year behind a young and inexperienced line that was juggled every week as a result of injuries. What makes Ladell's 2,626 career rushing yards so impressive is not that the total is the 3rd highest in Iowa Football history, but that he has gained the yards behind sub par OL play in each of his three years as a starter.
When he committed to the University of Iowa following an outstanding career in Blue Springs, Missouri, Ladell was a high school all-American that was joining a traditional Big Ten program that had just finished 9-3 in the 1996 season. Although the statistics and playing time at Iowa have been everything that he was looking for when he committed, the wins and team success have not. Through it all, Ladell has been humble and soft-spoken during the struggles even though it would have been easy for a player of his caliber and accomplishments to point fingers at teammates who weren't playing and performing at his level.
Betts might not have the explosive open field speed that other top backs around the country have, but he has had long TD runs of 74 and 65 yards in his career. He is very physical around defenders, has a nice array of spin moves, rarely fumbles, and has the durability that many backs lack. He is also very strong for his size and catches the ball out of the backfield very well.
Much like the success that Dean Oliver found on the Hawkeye Basketball team last winter, Ladell Betts deserves to go out as a winner. He has given all of us so much in the way of consistent effort, determination, and performance. It would be great if his teammates and fans could help him get what he has lacked at Iowa in the last three years – a solid Big Ten season and bowl game! His continued health and performance is paramount if the Iowa Football program is to take a big step forward this year.
A full year of seeing Jeremy Allen on the field could really help Betts and Iowa Football as well. As talented as any fullback in the Big Ten Conference, Jeremy has fought through a series of injuries over the last two seasons. Over those two seasons, the spring has been his time to shine as he has turned heads in the spring football games while continuing to excel in the Iowa Track and Field program. Perhaps the best shot and disc athlete in Iowa history, Jeremy has placed at the NCAA championships in both the shot put and discus, and won Big Ten titles in both as well.
On the gridiron, Jeremy has shown ability in all phases of what a fullback is needed to do. Because of athleticism that teammates have termed as "freaky," Allen is able to do more as a runner and pass catcher than most fullbacks. A powerful lower body has helped in his ability to be a great lead blocker as well. The only thing that seemed to be average last season was his ability to pass block on blitzes, but that should improve if he can stay healthy and get more reps in actual game competition.
Some people think that if Jeremy is healthy Ladell might not get the ball 232 times like he did last season, but that is misguided. If they are both healthy and the offensive line is healthy and improved, the Iowa Offense should be gaining more yards and scoring more points than last year. Both men should have good years as they can both run and catch so well that defenses should not be able to focus solely on one player.
Beyond Ladell and Jeremy, the depth at tailback is very good, although a little unproven. Sophomore Aaron Greving (5-11, 207) is listed on the team depth chart just ahead of junior Siaka Massaquoi (5-11, 200), sophomore Fred Russell (5-8, 185), and freshman Jermelle Lewis (5-11, 208). A former highly rated prep from Ames, Greving has really made a mark in practice, while Massaquoi put up good numbers in the spring game.
Siaka showed at the spring game that he has the quickness and ability to really hit and exploit a hole, while also having the balance and moves to make defenders miss. Lewis struggled to get yards running behind the second team OL, but he looked very good trying. He seems to have more size and strength than many of the other backs, and the former top high school runner on the East Coast is very fluid and quick like Siaka as well.
Russell has as much, if not more, speed than anyone else at the position, but he seems to lack the size to be an every down back. He and other backups would be good candidates to see time as a slot receiver.
While the tailback spot is stocked with former prep all-Americans, the fullback depth is not as strong on paper. Backing up Allen is senior Robbie Crockett (6-0, 215) who has gained 99 career yards at tailback. He moved from tailback to fullback in the spring, and the coaches liked how he was able to make the transition. Freshman Aaron Mickens (5-10, 235) redshirted last year, while sophomore Edgar Cervantes (6-3, 240) has always looked good at linebacker in recent spring games. Edgar also made his transition to fullback this spring and might be the eventual sleeper of this group.
Betts and Allen are seniors, so backups need to see time in building for 2002. However, if 2001 is going to be a successful season, the two seniors need to be on the field a high majority of the time.
Quotes on the Running Backs from Media Day (8/10/2001
"My job should be easier because of the offensive line this year not only as a runner, but as a blocker. I have a lot of confidence in those guys, and I think they are going to have a great year. They have a lot of experience and have improved a lot."
They are going to throw the ball more to me this year and they want to get me to run the ball more this year. I think they feel it would help the offense, but whether it will happen or not remains to be seen. It is up to me to do something with it once I get it."
"I was close to this size when I came here out of high school. I think I was at about 225, so I thought I would eventually get as big as I have (240 lbs.). I didn't think that the strength and conditioning program would actually make me much faster, but I am."
"Even though I love track, I have had a lifetime dream since I was a little kid to play in the National Football League. No matter what, I am going to try and pursue that."
"It's great blocking for Ladell. He is competitive down to the bone. He really knows how to read his blocks. He is very humble. I feel lucky to be able to say that I block for him, because I think he is going to break a lot of records this year. He is going to help us do some great things as a team."
"It's exciting to look around in the huddle and know that you have played with all of these guys over the last couple of years. We know what we can do and we know how we can play. The experience is going to help us tremendously. Because of that, you can approach a guy and say 'hey, I know you can make that block. I have seen you do it before.' You can hold them accountable and have some fun."
"I think we can do more than just pick up where we finished last year. We have improved in the spring and summer, and I want to get to a bowl game this year. There is room open on my schedule for anything on January 1st or later."
"I think the line has a lot more experience, strength, durability, and depth. Plus, we got Jeremy Allen coming back who is in his senior year who is going to help the running game as a runner and blocker. So I think you can expect big things out of the running game. If the old philosophy holds true that running the ball wins games, I think our record is should be better this year."
"The talk is that Jeremy and I are going to catch the ball out of the backfield more this year, but that has to be ironed out in two-a-days. We'll see."
"I think my strengths as a runner lie with making yards after contact and being a downhill runner. I am a pretty aggressive runner. There are different backs with different styles, but I pride myself on following and reading my blocks correctly. I try and make people miss every here and there, but my style is downhill."
"There is so much talent at the running back position. I think all of those guys are capable of stepping in and getting it done."
"Jermelle is an exceptional athlete. All of his track, strength, and football accolades from high school are legit. He is fast, strong, and already big at about 205. He is going to be good."
"We push each other pretty good, but it is all in fun. We have competitions all the time among the running backs. It is done with the best interests of all the running backs so that we can be the best."
"I feel my durability comes from not ever wanting to miss time. There have been times that I have had things like a sprained ankle, but I ended up playing anyway. I don't ever want to miss Saturday games for anything, whether I am 50 percent (healthy) or whatever. Once I get the adrenaline going and see the crowd, the pain goes away."