Are You Ready to Womble?

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For the first time since Butch Davis arrived in Chapel Hill, the Tar Heels have stability in the running back corps. Red-shirt freshman Jamal Womble has added depth to the position, providing offensive coordinator John Shoop with a rare combination of speed and power in just one back.

When Womble left Sierra Vista, Ariz. to enroll at North Carolina last summer, thoughts of shooting up the depth chart as a freshman were rampant in his mind. After all, the four-star prospect finished his senior season with 1,787 yards and 21 touchdowns on 170 carries, setting new Buena High School records in career and season rushing totals.

But, as is often the case, transitioning from being "the man" in high school to being one of many at the college level did not occur immediately for the first-team All-Arizona selection.

"When I came in, I think I was a little selfish more than anything," Womble said on Thursday. "I was thinking, ‘I've got to start. I've got to do this and I've got to do that.' But after a year of working and training with these guys, it's about winning now. It's about championships."

In addition to mindset adjustment, Womble quickly discovered the importance of doing your football homework.

"The biggest change to me is that you've got to know what you're doing," Womble said. "In high school, it's just get the ball and run. But now you've got to recognize fronts and you have to know if a blitz is coming. You have to be able to read the three-technique to know if you have to cut back or not – you just can't cut back on every play."

It definitely doesn't hurt having Womble's blend of quickness and brute strength – current starting running back Shaun Draughn described his younger teammate as a "big, powerful speed back" earlier this summer.

But the freshman is still a work in progress. He weighed 230 pounds when he first stepped foot on campus, and having not lifted weights anywhere near as intensively in high school as he did last fall, Womble ballooned to 245 pounds during spring ball.

He still could move and handle his new weight, but he wasn't his normal explosive self. Four months later, Womble checks in at a sleek 5-foot-10, 225 pounds with increased pace and quickness. And while he has not run the 40-yard dash since posting a 4.6 at his spring weight, he indicated that there is an "obvious difference" in his speed.

Understanding blocking schemes and assignments was a point of emphasis for all of the running backs this offseason, and those efforts have not diminished during training camp. The entire group watches film to prepare for practice just like they would for a game, and they arrive at Navy Fields 20 minutes early every day to sneak in a few walkthroughs before running backs coach Kenny Browning gets a hold of them.

"You have to actually know what you're doing back there," Womble said. "If I see the corner blitzing backside, even if I see him coming, that might not be my responsibility."

With the recent string of injuries and departures along the offensive line, it would be reasonable for the running backs to have some concern, but Womble would rather discuss how certain individuals are stepping up to fill the vacated roles.

"Injuries are a part of football," Womble said. "The most surprising thing to me is the way the young freshmen have stepped up. All three of them are getting into the rotation right now – Travis [Bond], David [Collins] and Brennan [Williams]. Brennan has even worked with the first team a few times. These guys are out here and they're holding their own."

Womble admitted to having two "shaky" practices in the early part of training camp, but indicated that things have turned for the better since those sessions.

"I need to continue to improve on aiming points," Womble said. "Reading the line and not getting to excited when I get back there, and then just staying focused."

Womble is likely 16 days from seeing his first action at the college level when the Tar Heels welcome The Citadel for the season opener at Kenan Stadium. This time 12 months ago, the well-spoken freshman would have been guessing his stat line. Now, it's just about getting the first victory in what he hopes to be a season full of them.


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