Training Camp Preview -- Running Backs
Aug. 1, 2014
This is the fourth installment of a series in which VirginiaSports.com breaks down the 2014 football team by position.
CHARLOTTESVILLE — More went wrong than right for the UVa football team in 2013, but several players still managed to distinguish themselves in a trying season, among them tailback Kevin Parks.
On a team that finished 2-10, Parks rushed for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns and made the All-ACC second team. For a player whom many ACC schools passed on, despite his legendary career at West Rowan High in North Carolina, those accomplishments held special significance.
“It means a lot,” Parks said last month at the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. “People always doubted me, and that’s something I’m used to. I always use it as motivation when I’m working out.”
The first Cavalier since Alvin Pearman (1,037) in 2004 to rush for 1,000 yards, Parks is back this season, and he’s not the only weapon in what, if the line does its part, could be a potent running game.
“Those guys are incredible to play with and be around,” Parks said. “Everybody’s game is different, so that’s good. That’s what they bring to the table. Everybody’s game is different, and it’s going to help the team.”
Shepherd, who like Parks is a fifth-year senior, is one of the team’s most versatile players. He’s had a 73-yard TD reception, against Louisiana Tech in 2012, a 45-yard TD run, against Oregon in 2013, and a 72-yard kickoff return, against Georgia Tech in 2012.
“Khalek, we’ve been together since Day One,” Parks said. “Always been roommates. He’s a great player, great person to be around.”
Mizzell, whose nickname is Smoke, was the most heralded member of the recruiting class that entered UVa in 2013, but an ankle injury limited his effectiveness as a true freshman. Parks expects much from Mizzell this fall.
“He is as good as advertised,” Parks said. “The kid’s amazing. He has it all. I hear some things like, `He can’t run between the tackles.’ He can run between the tackles. He can do everything. Catch out of the backfield. Whatever you ask, Smoke’s going to do it, and I’m ready for him to show what he can do this year.”
Hamm, who came to UVa as a walk-on last year, received a medical hardship waiver after missing the final eight games of the season with an injury. How Lewis, also the Cavaliers’ special-teams coordinator, plans to use him this season isn’t clear, but Hamm was a revelation before he got hurt in 2013.
Against VMI, he rushed 21 times for 136 yards, a school record for a UVa player in his collegiate debut, and two TDs.
“Very impressive what he did,” Parks said. “He was a freshman, and a walk-on freshman at that. We looked at him like, `Who’s this kid coming in?’ He’s really pretty good. He’s strong up top. Got good legs, got a good build. He’s a good running back. He really is.”
Billy Skrobacz, UVa’s No. 1 fullback in 2013, is out of eligibility, but two scholarship players return at that position: sophomore Connor Wingo-Reeves and junior Vincent Croce. Neither is likely to carry the ball much, but they’re willing blockers with other skills.
“They’re big guys,” said Parks, the ACC’s only returning 1,000-yard rusher, “and both of them can catch out of the backfield as well.”
With 73 career receptions, Parks has proven he can catch, too. He’s eager to contribute as a leader this fall as well. He’s one of the Cavaliers’ four captains.
“I’ve got to do the little things right, off the field and on the field, because everybody’s looking up to me,” Parks said. “The young pups, they’re looking at me like, `KP’s doing this, KP’s doing that.’ “
On the field, Parks said, he has improved dramatically from his days at West Rowan, where he rushed for a North Carolina-record 10,895 career years.
“Going to college, you learn a lot about the game,” he said. “You gotta study more film, read the defense, picking up blocking schemes and stuff like that. In high school, you block off the edge here and block off the edge there, but in college you gotta know all the assignments, know where the defense is coming from at all times, because [otherwise] you can get your quarterback killed.”
Parks is confident he can protect UVa’s new starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, on pass plays. He’s equally confident the Cavaliers can put their 2013 struggles behind them.
“We have the right guys, the right guys for this team to win,” Parks said.
A look at the Cavaliers’ running backs, by class:
* No. 25, tailback Kevin Parks (5-8, 205-pound fifth-year senior, Salisbury, N.C.). A second-team All-ACC selection last season, Parks is the conference’s leading returning rusher. With 2,474 career rushing yards, he ranks eighth at UVa and figures to climb as high as No. 2 before he’s done. In 2013, he rushed for 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns and also caught 38 passes (for 329 yards and one TD).
* No. 23, tailback Khalek Shepherd (5-8, 195-pound fifth-year senior, Upper Marlboro, Md.). Shepherd contributed one of the Cavaliers’ highlights last season: a 45-yard touchdown run against Oregon. He enters his final college season with career totals of 442 yards rushing, 264 yards receiving and 1,468 yards on kickoff returns. Shepherd was Virginia’s second-leading rusher in 2013, with 304 yards.
* No. 47, fullback Vincent Croce (6-4, 260-pound junior, Olney, Md.). A converted defensive lineman, Croce came out of spring practice as the Cavaliers’ No. 2 fullback. He played in eight games last season, primarily on special teams. He’s also an option at tight end, where the `Hoos have only three scholarship players.
* No. 4, tailback Taquan Mizzell (5-10, 190-pound sophomore, Virginia Beach). An ankle injury marred his much-anticipated first season at UVa, but when healthy Mizzell has game-breaking ability. As a true freshman last year, he rushed 45 times for 184 yards and one TD, caught 29 passes for 164 yards and one TD, and returned 21 kickoffs for 347 yards. Like Virginia teammates Demetrious Nicholson, Henry Coley and Quin Blanding, Mizzell starred at Bayside High.
* No. 30, sophomore LaChaston Smith (6-0, 230-pound sophomore, Statesville, N.C.). One of 12 true freshmen to play last season, Smith came to UVa as a linebacker in January 2013 but soon moved to offense. In his only appearance last year, he rushed 10 times for 44 yards against VMI.
* No. 41, fullback Connor Wingo-Reeves (6-3, 235-pound sophomore, Midlothian). A graduate of Monacan High, Wingo-Reeves heads into training camp atop the depth chart at fullback. He played in all 12 games as a true freshman last year, totaling 99 plays on offense and 79 on special teams. Wingo-Reeves, who did not have any carries, caught one pass for 4 yards.
* No. 22, tailback Daniel Hamm (5-10, 195-pound redshirt freshman, Wytheville). After missing the Cavaliers’ final eight games with an injury, Hamm received a medical hardship waiver, so he still has four years of eligibility. He played in two games as a true freshman and starred in one of them, rushing for 136 yards and two TDs against VMI.
* No. 26, tailback Anthony Calloway (5-8, 155-pound redshirt freshman, Lynchburg). Calloway rushed for 1,090 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2012 to help Brookville High repeat as Group AA, Division 3 state champion. He also was a state champion in track.
* No. 31, tailback Jordan Ellis (5-11, 210-pound true freshman, Suwanee, Ga.). A powerful runner, Ellis rushed for 1,677 yards and 30 TDs for Peachtree Ridge High last season. He also had 200 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.