Jawon Chisholm’s extra effort will likely lead to personal success, but the primary beneficiary will be the University of Akron football team.
The Zips’ starting running back didn’t sit idly by during his offseason nor after returning to campus.
He worked out with a personal trainer and aspiring and current NFL players such as Jordan Hill, Justin Brown and Aaron Berry.
“I got in great shape here. We trained hard all summer,” he said. “We did some offseason work as a team. I put in extra [time].”
It’s part of a collective vibe apparent to anyone who has spent any time around Zips who played on the team last year. It’s the attention to detail and, yes, the little extra things that will ultimately make a difference in the win-loss columns.
“I just didn’t want to be the average guy. To be great, you have to be more than average,” Chisholm said. “You can’t do the same things everybody on the team is doing.”
The results show on Chisholm’s physique. Zips coach Terry Bowden sees it.
“He’s about 195 [pounds]. He started the season at 205 last year, so he’s a little lighter, but he’s older,” Bowden said. “He’s lifted weights. He’s trained. You can get faster. I think he’s picked it up. He’s picked up the speed.”
He’s also the team’s biggest back.
Add to the mix an extra burst of speed, and Chisholm holds the potential to be a dangerous weapon in the running attack and the passing game.
He displayed the potential last year when he rushed for 953 yards on 180 attempts for a 5.3 average and five touchdowns, a successful year by any metric. But logically speaking, he should be improved after a year in Bowden’s spread offense.
“I think he’s a natural I-back and he had to learn to be a zone-reading back,” Bowden said. “He’s a reckless runner and the zone isn’t about reckless running, so he was always hesitant about when to take off because he might miss a zone read. I think now, he’s a lot more comfortable with it.”
Chisholm said that he’s learned to read those blocking zones and his offensive linemen, thanks to advice from second-year running backs coach Trent Boykin.
“I was a little jittery at the beginning of the season,” he said. “Coach Boykin coached real hard. He’s a real critical person, but a great coach. He got me to the point I am at now.”
But he goes back to the training in Harrisburg where he worked specifically on one aspect of his running technique — balance.
“I was on the ground too much last year,” he said. “I stumbled through holes. If somebody hit me, I would just get straight off balance.”
Add that to the lessons learned from working alongside players whose games have taken them to the next level, and his teammates can only hope it transfers to Saturdays this year.
“It’s great just being around people who have already made it to that level,” he said, “and knowing what it takes to be at that level. I tried to train harder than them because I know some day I could probably be there.”
Drew Phillips, a running back from Boaz, Ala., who will be converted to a slot receiver, has joined the team. He’s still waiting for an admissions issue to be cleared up, then will begin his acclimation period. Phillips’ scholarship was pulled from Brigham Young University in 2011.
“I’m anxious to see Drew Phillips because he is a very fast receiver,” Bowden said. “We’re going to look at him in the slot and he brings great speed credentials in and we need to see that. He’ll be behind; we have to see him quickly and early.”
With the team dressed in full pads, Bowden said he was impressed by the players’ eagerness to play “real football.”
“What we have to start doing tomorrow is learn how to practice like the pros,” he said. “We have to learn to play fast, but protect ourselves and teach tackling more in one-on-one drills.”
Bowden is obviously aware of the risks, so he was thankful for a safe practice.
“The older I get, the thing that makes me the most happy is when no one gets taken off injured,” he said.
George M. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.