Virginia Tech has just under a week until their 2023 spring game kicks off inside Lane Stadium this Saturday at 3 PM. While many Hokies fans will be anxious to see plenty of new faces at different positions in action, running back is one position group to keep a close eye on.
In 2022, Tech produced the second worst rushing offense in the ACC. The Hokies amassed under 111 rushing yards per game. Two of Tech’s top rushers, Keshawn King and Jalen Holston are gone which begs why in the world should fans be excited for what’s to come from the 2023 running back room.
The answer lies in one headline returner in Malachi Thomas and two newcomers in transfer Bhayshul Tuten and RBs coach Elijah Brooks.
Thomas comes into his third season in Blacksburg after having shown plenty of promise back in his debut season in 2021 before a tough 2022 campaign where injuries limited him to only three games.
However, Thomas is healthy now and looking like the potential high-end lead RB that the Hokies could see in his limited appearances in 2022.
“He (Malachi Thomas) is consistent and dependable. Really good in pass protection and gets stronger as the practices move along. Right now, that 1-2 combination between those two guys (Thomas & Tuten) in the spring has been really impressive.” Brooks said.
Bhayshul Tuten has provided the running back room with not just more experience but a whole lot of talent too. Tuten rushed for over 1,300 yards in 2022 on over 200 carries. He was a workhorse back at North Carolina A&T who brings a different style of running to the table.
“Bhayshul has done a fantastic job, he has some natural ability that you can’t coach and I’m excited because he’s one of these kids that comes out every day and competes, he wants to get better. I’ve been around a lot of talented running backs and he continues to work hard. He will have a lot of success this year.” Brooks stated.
Tuten brings a new kind of energy into the running back room and the Hokies' offense as a whole. He’s primarily a power runner and is great at breaking tackles to create big plays in the run game.
“Angry, I’m an angry runner. I don’t want to go down," Tuten said. "My role here is to create explosive plays and to give us the boost we need.”
Together, Thomas and Tuten have turned heads of not just the coaching staff but also each other. Even with a short time practicing on the same field, the pair seem to be getting along very well.
“Firstly, Bhayshul is a great person. On the field, he’s an amazing athlete. His contact balance and burst of speed, he just has all the tools so he’s going to be really good.” Thomas said.
“He’s a funny dude, a great friend and teammate on and off the field, he's just a great person,” Tuten said. “On the field he’s always competing, he never backs down and always wants to win.”
Additionally, it seems like the competition between Thomas, Tuten and all the Tech running backs has been intense.
“The competition has been back and forth with explosive plays and consistency. I like the competition and so does he, which makes it fun.” Thomas said.
Both Thomas and Tuten are also entering into their third season of college football which means they’ll both be asked to mentor a young group of running backs. The challenge of leadership is pushing Tech’s top 2 backs to get better and improve as a whole in the spring.
“The whole running back room has grown, we’re always pushing each other, helping each other out on the sidelines. If one person doesn’t know, you ask someone that does so we’re always coaching each other up.” Thomas said.
With Tuten and Thomas as the primary candidates to lead the way in the rushing attack for the 2023 season, fans will most likely wonder how the duo will complement each other. It seems like Thomas will bring the speed while Tuten brings the power.
“Malachi is a speed and power guy, I’m a power and speed guy so it’s a 1-2 punch, we can wear the defense out together with different styles.” Tuten said.
In addition to the on the field threats of Thomas and Tuten, new RBs coach Elijah Brooks is also making his presence felt as the spring chugs along. Brooks came over from Maryland where he served as the Terrapins RBs coach for four years. Before then, Brooks was the head coach at high school powerhouse DeMatha Catholic in Baltimore. That background also meant that Brooks had a lot of relationships with curren Tech RBs.
“I definitely had a relationship with those guys when I recruited at DeMatha, they recruited plenty of players there for years. It all came full circle and when they had an opening, they were familiar with me and reached out to gauge my interest. Seeing what Virginia Tech was building was something I wanted to be a part of.” Brooks said.
Brooks was hired in mid-March way later than normal in the coaching cycle and usually a time where it's hard to get highly-regarded assistants. However, Hokies head coach Brent Pry convinced Brooks on the culture and the program’s foundation on which success can be set for the future.
“His (Brent Pry) passion is infectious…the culture that he has here, when you have a great culture you’re going to have the chance to win some games. The staff here has done a good job of attracting talent. It won’t happen overnight but the way coach Pry is building this, I definitely believe in it.” Brooks said.
Despite limited time with the players, Brooks is already making an impact on fellow newcomers and returners alike.
“It’s a real clean slate for everyone, coach Brooks is great, he’s an amazing guy and he knows what he’s talking about. Now we just have to put it all together.” Thomas said.
While there will be plenty to look at on Tech’s defense and at the quarterback position for the Spring Game, look for Malachi Thomas and Bhayshul Tuten to show on Saturday why they can be a dangerous 1-2 punch for the Hokies this fall.