COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The simple draw play -- sitting five yards behind the line of scrimmage, hesitating slightly, grabbing the handoff and then bursting up the gut -- is one of Jacquille Veii's personal favorites. For the Terps' sophomore running back, such a play allows him to show off his 4.3 40-yard-dash giddy-up, his cut-on-a-dime moves and his breakaway acceleration.
It's no surprise, then, that Veii's most memorable run last season, his first in College Park, came on a draw against Old Dominion in Week 2. The 5-foot-9, 180 pounder burst through a gaping hole in the center of the line, split two linebackers, cut left and dashed 26 yards for a first down.
"It's just a rush, and just excitement and straight adrenaline," Veii said when asked what it's like to break into the open field. "If I get to the second level I'm going to try to give [the defender] a move, and then I'm trying to get my adrenaline all the way up to just go by him."
Sitting third on the depth chart, even with No. 1 back Wes Brown suspended last season, Veii did not have many adrenaline-churning opportunities, however. With sophomores Brandon Ross and Albert Reid receiving the bulk of the work, the freshman from nearby Montgomery County had just 39 carries for 146 yards (3.7 yards per carry), to go along with five receptions for 16 yards. Veii did not reach the end zone and had just three totes over 10 yards.
But rushes like that aforementioned 26 yarder demonstrated the potential Veii has. Even with Brown back in the fold in 2014, Veii remains the Terps' most dangerous downfield runner.
"I feel like I bring explosiveness and playmaking ability," Veii said. "I just have to keep my eyes on my reads, but I definitely bring playmaking ability and explosiveness right off the bat -- the home run hit."
Veii hit plenty of home runs at the Avalon School two years ago. His highlight film was chock full of 40-, 50-, 60-yard jaunts where he simply beat the linebackers to the edge, turned upfield and motored by the secondary.
But Division I college football is a much different animal than tiny Avalon, where Veii competed against sometimes subpar competition. Needless to say, he had to make some adjustments as a true freshman at Maryland (including an offseason position switch since he was originally recruited as a cornerback before moving to the backfield).
"The main thing I had trouble with is pass protection. At Avalon I never did any of that, I just took the ball and ran," Veii said. "Also, keeping my eyes of my reads and staying disciplined, I have to work on that. Pressing the line, I have trouble with that sometimes. I have to focus on reading my keys and not doing everything prematurely."
In other words, he can't just take the ball and go, Forrest Gump style. Turns out there's much more to running the football than just, you know, running. It's hardly an individual endeavor, and requires attributes like patience, instincts, vision and the like.
"Jacquille, probably out of all the guys, may have the greatest amount of skill," running backs coach Andre Powell said. "But he's the guy who probably has the least amount of football knowledge and he's the smallest guy in the group. But he does bring some unique things to the table, and we'll see how he improves from last year to this year."
To his credit, Veii has shown noticeable improvement this spring. On March 10, he had a couple nifty runs where he waited for blocks to develop before shooting through a hole.
"He's definitely a lightning back, and brings a lot of energy, speed, great acceleration," Ross said. "He makes cuts well, he has good vision, he's really elusive, and he has great instincts And he's very fun to play with because he's always trying to get better. He spends extra time in the film room, and he learns quickly."
Veii admitted his knowledge of the game has improved and he's processing plays more quickly. He said all the extra film study this offseason, plus the tips he's accrued from Ross, Reid and Brown, have paid off heading into his second season.
"From Brandon, I learned just to be a vet and getting the mental game right because he's good with concepts," said Veii, who noted that doing the "little things" right like showing up on time to meetings and staying out of trouble goes a long way. "From Al [Reid], he's a tough runner and a hard worker, so I take that from him. He's great in practice and it translates to the field. And Wes, he's a tough back and runs low, and I try to run low as well. I have to, because I'm a shorter guy.
"You have to follow everybody first. Then, once you know [what you're doing], you can do your own thing and kind of teach yourself to lead."
It's going to be difficult for Veii to lead during games this year, though. With Brown, Ross and Reid all healthy and active, Veii's carries may be limited once again. Even though he brings speed to the table, the Terps' top three runners may still have the edge in football IQ.
"It's definitely a challenge because [Ross, Brown and Reid] know everything and things come easier to them," said Veii, who is also in the mix as a return man this season. "But it's also a blessing because they can teach you. You just try to stand out the best you can."
Veii may not even realize it, but he's done some unintentional teaching himself. Ross, who said all the backs feed off each other, admitted he's watched the way Veii runs, picking up a few pointers in the process.
"[Veii] brings a lot to the table, and honestly I try to harness parts of his game into my own," Ross said. "That's a good way to get better and become a better player."
It's a high compliment, for sure. Now it's up to Veii to take it and, well, run with it.
Veii Adds Unique Talents to Backfield
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