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UConn Football Position Preview: Running Backs

After starting camp as one of the team’s strongest positions, the Huskies are running out of bodies at running back.

The UConn Huskies take on the Boston College Eagles in a college football game at Fenway Park in Boston as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series on November 18, 2017.
The UConn Huskies take on the Boston College Eagles in a college football game at Fenway Park in Boston as part of the Fenway Gridiron Series on November 18, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Entering camp, running back was arguably one of the deepest positions on UConn football’s roster. But after the departure of Nate Hopkins and the injury to Donevin O’Reilly, the Huskies are left painfully thin.

Hopkins led the team with seven touchdowns last season along with 343 yards on the ground. However, he left the program unhappy with his projected role as the goal-line and short yardage back.

O’Reilly, meanwhile, is a former walk-on from Glastonbury, Connecticut that broke out at the spring game to the tune of 130 rushing yards, 49 receiving yards and three total touchdowns. During camp, he saw plenty of action with the first team and was the top option at the position according to head coach Randy Edsall.

With both players gone, there are just four running backs on the Huskies’ roster — two of which are true freshmen.

Kevin Mensah

Mensah led the team with 561 rushing yards last season and that number should only climb this season. At 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, he’s easily the biggest back on the team and will likely become the team’s bellcow.

Despite the size, however, he flashed the ability to be a home run hitter last season, breaking off a 70-yard touchdown run against Boston College. He was also strong in the passing game, catching 14 passes for 103 yards.

Mensah has the ability to be a three-down back but will likely be used more on early downs and in short yardage or goal line situations.

Zavier Scott

Scott was an under-the-radar recruit since he was living and playing football in Germany thanks to a military family. He was touted as a receiver coming in, but has seen more time with the running backs.

He had a strong spring game and projects as the team’s pass-catching/third down back. His versatility at receiver will come in handy and let him flex outside and create mismatches with linebackers in coverage.

Running between the tackles isn’t a strength for Scott but he may see action with depth thinned out in addition to giving defenses a different look from the backfield.

Khyon Gillespie

Gillespie, a local kid from Hartford, played high school ball at Capital Prep where he dominated defenses with 10.0 yards-per-carry. He’ll see snaps as a true freshman and looks to be the third back due to his performance in camp.

At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, he would really benefit from a redshirt year to gain weight but likely won’t have that luxury. His frame will limit him to a similar role as Scott in the scat-back mold.

Dante Black

With a 5-foot-10, 200 pound frame, Black is the clear second option behind Mensah in the big-back role. However, he may need some time to adjust to the speed of the college game and might not be ready for action so early in his career.

If the other three players stay healthy, the coaching staff might be able to get away with playing Black less than four games in order to preserve his redshirt for the season.

You can view the rest of our position previews here: