One-on-One with Jamaal Charles

If Texas can run the ball this season, Texas can run the table. As such, the Horns' championship aspirations rest as much on RB Jamaal Charles' shoulder pads as anyone else in the starting lineup. Inside Texas caught up with the junior running back.

"Doesn't anyone love me?" was Jamaal Charles' rhetorical question, as media members clamored around highly touted teammates QB Colt McCoy and SE Limas Sweed. It was intended as tongue-in-cheek, as Charles is certain to garner more than his share of attention in 2007. Fans who have not seen him since the Orange-White scrimmage will certainly notice that the Port Arthur product has added some beef to his 6-1 frame. He's listed by UT at 205 pounds, up from 190 last fall.

Charles was certainly not going to tip the hat in terms of revealing added wrinkles in the offense, but confirmed that coaches want him to emerge as more of a receiving threat this season.

"They've been throwing me the ball out of the backfield more this season than in the past years," Charles said. "That will help a lot if I can become a threat in the passing game."

Charles notched a career-best 72-yard TD catch in Texas' Alamo Bowl win over Iowa last December, the fourth-longest reception by a RB in program history. The third-quarter play gave Texas the lead for good in a tight 26-24 ballgame.

"That showed them that I've got speed out of the backfield," Charles added.

Charles has forged a bond with backup RB Chris Ogbonnaya, reporting that his understudy assisted him in the weight room during the off-season while he coached Ogbonnaya on ways to increase his speed. The two enjoy a friendly relationship off-the-field but, during camp, are determined to ensure there is no void in leadership on this year's offense.

"We don't have any (senior RBs) coming back," Charles said. "Chris and I are juniors, so we have to take over for the seniors. We have to step up and be leaders for the other young guys."

Coaches have said Charles is typically a lead-by-example player, but Charles told Inside Texas that, now, he has made an effort to "teach them (backups) how to do the plays and how to run the plays, direct them, just putting a hand on them to tell them that they're doing good. I want them to know that if they didn't do good that it's going to be all right. I'm still on their side."

Obviously, Selvin Young has completed his eligibility and Henry Melton made the move to DE during the bowl season. Even so, the RB stable has been restocked with young talent. RS-freshman Vondrell McGee is one of those diminutive backs (5-10, 205) who knows he can get leverage on defensive fronts, who has the speed to pop outside but who says he loves to run the ball up the middle. True freshman Foswhitt Whittaker (5-10, 190) is an all-stater out of Pearland who enrolled early to log some PT this season. True freshman Cody Johnson (5-11, 240) is an all-stater from Waller, but is likely a redshirt candidate.

"I'm really happy with my running backs," Charles said. "I feel real comfortable with the group of running backs we have this year. Chris Ogbonnaya, Vondrell, all of them guys are coming along. They're doing really well. I'm proud of my running backs. I think they could step in if I go down. I know Vondrell can make a big gain in the running game."

Charles led the team with 831 rushing yards on 156 totes last season, but saw his average ypg dip from 7.4 to 5.3. There were times last season when coaches privately questioned Charles' physical toughness and ball security, but that seems like ancient history these days when Charles is touted as The Man in the Longhorn backfield. Currently, the only personal goals by which he measures success are the leadership he wants to convey as well as simply making it through the triple-digit heat of August Camp.

"I just want to get through two-a-days," he said. "After I get through two-a-days, I'll think about (statistical success) when we get to the first game."

The first scrimmage of the 2007 preseason is set for Wednesday.

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