When new Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald arrived in Salt Lake City, he hit the ground running. Within hours of being hired, he was on an airplane working to finish off the recruiting class of 2017. As he prepares for his first spring camp at Utah, UteZone sat down with McDonald to get his take on what to expect from the Utah backs over the coming weeks.
From your experience working with Coach Taylor, how would you describe the offensive scheme?
“Troy has an ultimate vision for the offense. When you talk about Coach Taylor, you’re talking about a lot of energy, a lot of knowledge, and a lot of experience. When you get a chance to work with someone like that, you get a chance to learn as well. The one thing I can say about the offense is that it’s explosive, it’s unique, and it’s fun.”
Troy Taylor’s offenses are known for throwing the football, so what are your expectations for the running backs in year one of this new offensive scheme?
"The bar has always been set high when you’re talking about the running back position at the University of Utah. We want to continue to carry the torch and continue to get better. We’re not going take any steps back. We want to build on that legacy which has been built upon the shoulders of the guys that have come before. That’s for sure.
In terms of where the running back fits into this offense, it’s a big part of it. This offense is very flexible and we’re going to take what the defense gives us. If the defense says ‘run the football,’ we’re going to run the ball right down your throat. If the defense says take a shot, we’re going to do those things. With the flexibility built into the offense, we’re going to attack based upon what the defense is giving us."
Coming in, you have a talented group of players on the roster. What are your priorities coming into your first spring with the players on the roster especially as you try to integrate new players coming up in the fall?
"Honestly, leadership and continuity. When you’re bringing in new guys, they need to get integrated and feel comfortable in the room. Those guys already understand that there’s a standard here, that we’re going to attack that standard and will continue to get better."
What are your impressions of the backs on the roster after watching film on them and how do you replace Joe Williams?
"Joe was a heck of a player, but the two guys behind him - Armand Shyne and Zach Moss - have a chance to do something special. We’ve just got to continue to work hard to be able to do that. When you talk about Armand Shyne, he’s a big back with great patience and vision. I think Zach Moss is a five tool running back. He can do everything under the sun, and he’s got a chance to be special in his own right as well.
Then we’ve got Devontae Henry-Cole, he was a 10.6 [100 m] kid coming out of Florida. He’s going to have a chance to add to it as well. A lot of people haven’t seen him, but he’s a good football player in his own right as well. Then we’ve got other guys like Jordan Howard that are competing and are trying to see some action. We’ve got some good depth. They don’t have a lot of reps, but they’ve got a lot of talent."
On the recruiting front, what are the attributes that you’re looking for in a running back?
"He’s Gritty, he’s tough, and he’s smart. He’s got great balance, patience, vision, and the ability to hit the home run. He’s got the ability to pass protect and he doesn’t turn anything down. He’s a tough cookie, and at the end of the day loves to be able to get taught the game and loves to come to work every day."
What geographical areas will you be responsible for on the recruiting trail?
"I’m going to recruit Fresno and Bakersfield – so Central California. I’ll be down in L.A., Arizona, Colorado and a splash of Washington. We’re going to go get them. I’m very excited to recruit those areas. There’s a lot of talent in those areas. People just need to recognize the brand of Utah football. When you talk about Utah football, it’s been one of the best teams in the Pac-12 since it’s been here. We’re tough, we’re gritty. We haven’t always been overly flashy, but we’re very good at what we do. This year, we were tied with USC with most guys going to the combine. Some wouldn’t think that Utah would be that team, but people need to know that Utah is that team."
What’s your recruiting style when you talk with recruits?
"I’m not flashy at all. When you think about me as a recruiter, you think about how I care. This game is about the kids and it’s about them being able to make great decisions for their futures. The biggest piece with me is being honest, being firm and helping them understand all about who we are. Be transparent. Don’t tell these kids something that’s not the truth. Just be honest. Treat them like they’re your kids. You wouldn’t want anyone treating your kids like that. So that’s been my mindset on the road, and it’s worked out pretty well."
How is the offensive staff coming together now that you and Troy have had a chance to get settled?
"It’s been awesome. They’ve welcomed me with open arms. When you talk about a lot of knowledge, the offense staff has it. Doc’s been doing this for a while. Coach Harding has been doing this for a while. Coach Fred has been here doing great things – especially with recruiting. It’s been awesome to be able to sit down with a new group of guys that understand that it’s all about that U at the 50 yard line. Everybody is in it to win. Everybody is hungry to go out here and have success for the University of Utah. So it’s been a great transition for me to come in and learn from this staff and integrate it into some of the things that we do and come out here and do something special."
What will be your approach installing the new offense this spring?
"We just need to come out and be fundamentally sound in alignment and assignment and just come out and play with some passion and some fire and understand the standard that’s going to be at the position. Period. We do that and I think we’ll be in a good place. We just need to do it every day.
The back position in this offense demands a lot. You need to know where you’re going, where you’re lining up. You need to know what route you’re running. So the backs will have a lot more on their plate than they ever have at this university. This group is up for it and they’re ready to go. But we’re going to consistently grow and work on the little things in terms of our route progressions."