Jalen Holston may not have been one of the highest-rated 2017 Virginia Tech signees by the major recruiting sites, but Holston was high on the board throughout the cycle for the Hokies and a big get when he committed to play his college football in Blacksburg. While Holston was highly regarded by the staff, there’s always the difficultly for a true freshman to earn playing time especially when they don’t arrive on campus till the summer.
However, Holston has entered the fall with lots of opportunity despite how VT is returning some veteran running backs due to McMillian struggling in his first season in Justin Fuente’s offense, McClease recovering from injuries this offseason, and Peoples making the transition from a fullback/h-back role to a full-time running back job.
From the first week of fall camp, Fuente has also set the expectation for Holston to come in and compete not only for touches but also for the starting RB job.
“I anticipate that he gets in there and competes for it and tries to become a guy that we can trust to carry the football. I don’t know if he will or not, but I hope he gets in there and competes.” – Justin Fuente on Jalen Holston (August 3rd)
Fuente set the bar high for Holston to step up and be productive as a true freshman and so far, Holston has been making a strong impression on his coaches and teammates largely because of his downhill running style and his impressive physical tools for a freshman.
“Jalen is just a little bit more mature body than most true freshman, he’s a bigger kid.” – Fuente on Holston playing early (August 9th)
“He’s tough, he’s downhill, and he brings a different kind of element as a young guy to our running backs room. He’s also a leader. He’s a younger leader, and it’s tough to be able to come here as a true freshman and actually lead by example. He doesn’t say much, but he just works hard; and I think that’s big for our room and for other guys to see that.” – Zohn Burden on Holston (August 11th)
“He’s a great back, his vision is good, strong, competitive, he’s a bruiser.” – Reggie Floyd on Holston (August 9th)
From the head coach to Holston’s position coach to someone who has had to go against him in practice, Holston has made strong impressions on everyone around the VT football program in less than two weeks of practice, and is making it clear that he will get some significant touches this fall for the Hokies whether he’s the starter or not.
One thing that has impressed Holston’s coaches and teammates in his downhill, physical style that was mentioned by both Zohn Burden and Reggie Floyd.
In high school, you’ll see a lot of running backs have somewhat of an east-to-west running style in part because they are significantly better athletes and have the speed and agility to make most guys miss. However, Holston has clearly shown that he isn’t afraid of contact and in an offense that likes to spread the defense out, being a downhill runner that focuses on taking advantage of there usually being fewer men in the box should be to Holston’s benefit.
Holston also has the physical skills to be that type of runner as he’s already 219 pounds with the praise for his physical shape suggesting that most of that weight is good weight, something that can be an issue for some true freshmen. Holston also has the type of size that will allow him to take on a large load this fall if he is able to beat out some of the Hokies’ veteran tailbacks.
While it’s clear that Holston is a quite talented runner, one thing in particular from Zohn Burden’s comments stood out more than anything else on Holston.
“He’s also a leader. He’s a younger leader, and it’s tough to be able to come here as a true freshman and actually lead by example.” – Burden on Holston
To hear a coach call a true freshman that only arrived this summer and has been around for less than two weeks of practice is quite the profound statement about the character and work ethic that Holston has. There are only a few true freshmen who will receive that type of praise and for Holston to be one of those should be a great encouragement for the future that Holston has in Blacksburg.
In the short-term, it’s clear that Holston will have one of the largest roles of the Hokies’ true freshman as he should be in VT’s running back rotation this fall while also pushing guys like Travon McMillian, Deshawn McClease, and Steven Peoples for not only playing time but also a starting job throughout the season as a more complete back that can be a power runner and has shown the speed to make things happen.
In the long run, it’s clear that Justin Fuente’s first RB commit in Blacksburg is the future for the Hokies at RB and no one should be surprised if he’s the starter by next year’s season opener. The Georgia native has the most upside of any tailback on the roster currently because of how he is a well-rounded running back that fits Fuente’s system, something that can’t be said about the other three guys he is competing with.
More than that, Holston is emerging as a future leader of this team and a current leader in a RB room that already has plenty of guys who are going into at least their third seasons in the Hokies’ programs, something that is definitely a testament to Holston’s character.
Jalen Holston may have flown under-the-radar of the major recruiting analysts and rankings, but VT is reaping the benefits of not basing their recruiting on the opinions of the rankings and prioritizing him as a recruit.