When the 2006 season starts this fall, the starting running back job will be Ricky Ponton’s to lose. The problem is, he has some big shoes to fill – the fast, strong, record-breaking shoes of Andre Hall.
Asking any back to replace Hall is a tall order. Hall holds both the USF single-season (1,374) and career rushing (2,731) records, and according to experts, he will be beginning his NFL career come draft time.
Ponton has a lot of work to do, something the USF coaches understand.
“I think to expect someone to come in and do what Andre did is kind of tough,” coach Jim Leavitt said.
If anyone can come close to reproducing Hall’s numbers, it’s Ponton. The sophomore who attended Hillsborough High School was second on the team last season with 373 rushing yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Despite playing behind Hall, Ponton saw action in every game the Bulls played and averaged close to eight carries a game.
“Ricky’s got a lot of tools: he’s a good runner, he’s got good quickness, he’s a good blocker,” running backs coach Carl Franks said. “He knows what to do.”
Ponton is hoping he knows what to do to grab the starting job.
“That’s the dream,” Ponton said. “That’s the goal of mine – I love to be on the field.”
In an effort to solidify the starting job that he admits is ‘on his mind,’ Ponton said he’s dropped around 15 pounds and lowered his 40-yard-dash time from 4.55 to 4.48 seconds.
Even though he has the edge in experience over the other backs, Ponton – and his coaches – are quick to praise the other running backs on the team.
“(Freshman Moise Plancher) is a good back – a great back,” Ponton said. “We got a lot of good backs and we got backs coming in.”
Franks and Leavitt said that any back could land the starting job by the fall, but even if that person is not Ponton, it will take a lot of work to make the coaches forget Hall.
“Would you like to have Andre Hall for another couple of years? Yeah, sure, who wouldn’t?” Franks said. “Someone will give us the production, or maybe two guys or three guys will.”
No matter who emerges, Franks is confident about one thing.
“We’ll have somebody in place of Andre Hall.”