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University of Washington Huskies Football

Huskies hope Salvon Ahmed can fill the shoes of Myles Gaskin

Washington's Salvon Ahmed in action against North Dakota in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Seattle. (Elaine Thompson / Associated Press)
By Mike Vorel Seattle Times

Here are a few things Salvon Ahmed can do:

  • complete a 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds (like he did at the Husky combine last spring)
  • record and produce a hip-hop album (namely, “A Safehouse Summer,” which officially debuted on streaming services last week)
  • run the football in the Pac-12 (he did so 165 times in his first two seasons, registering 996 yards, 6.0 yards per carry and 10 touchdowns)
  • catch the football in the Pac-12 (he added 34 catches for 247 yards and 7.3 yards per reception in 2017 and 2018)
  • return kicks (as evidenced by his 14 kick returns for 353 yards, with a long of 82, in 2017)

But enough about the UW running back’s already bulky résumé. Here’s the big question:

Can he be a lead back?

Or, more to the point: can he be like Myles Gaskin, who never received fewer than 222 carries in a season during his historic UW career? Who ran it no fewer than 23 times in four of the Huskies’ final five games in 2018? Who played in 52 of a possible 54 career games, providing not just production — but peace of mind?

Put another way: we know Ahmed can do everything. But can he do it every week?

“You’re going to have to ask me that in November, because we haven’t started the season yet. So I don’t know,” Washington running backs coach Keith Bhonapha said.

“But I will say this: the guy is put together. He’s physical. He takes his exercising and all of that stuff with (strength and conditioning coach Tim) Socha seriously. I do think the guy’s tough. So we’ll see how he endures with the pounding, because we know this is a tough position and a tough sport. So we’ll see what happens.”

Perhaps the best way to recreate Gaskin’s success is to mimic the current Miami Dolphin’s process. Ahmed said last week that he communicates with Gaskin “every day.” Football is rarely the prevailing theme. But when it is …

“I just kind of ask him how he did it, things he did,” Ahmed said. “I know there’s different things in the weight room he’s been telling me about just throughout the season that he was doing, staying after practice, doing certain things. Obviously when I was first coming in I would do those things with him. But I’m on my own now, so it’s up to me to make those decisions.”

It’ll also be up to Ahmed to gain some tough yards – to burrow between the tackles and come out past the pylon. In his first two seasons in Seattle, the 5-foot-11, 196-pound back produced plenty of big plays. Now he’s out to prove he can fall forward in the fourth quarter.

“You pray and hope for the big ones. But as long as you can get those 5 yards, 3 yards, the team’s going to be in good hands,” Ahmed said. “That’s what I’ve been working on. That’s what we’ve been working on as a backfield. We’re not looking for the home run every time.”

Crack enough sharp singles, though, and enough runs will score. But who will be doing most of the hitting? Remember, Ahmed has only claimed double-digit carries four times in 27 career games, with his high being 11 carries (for 61 yards and two scores) in the overtime loss at Oregon last October.

Maybe the question shouldn’t be whether Ahmed can be the lead back. Will he really need to be?

“We know we need multiple running backs to make this thing work,” coach Chris Petersen said Sunday. “One guy can’t do it. It’s too physical at that position. We’ve got to get a lot of guys in the game. That’s a good competition as well.

“(Ahmed’s) probably got a lead on (the competition), but there are a lot of other guys that are in the mix. That thing is never done.”

Juniors Sean McGrew (226 rushing yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 1 TD in 2018) and Kamari Pleasant (214 yards, 5.1 YPC, 2 TD) provide proven depth at the position, even if they succeed in very different ways. McGrew (5-7, 186), Ahmed (5-11, 196) and freshman Cameron Davis (6-0, 197) are quicker, shiftier options; Pleasant (6-0, 213) and redshirt freshman Richard Newton (6-0, 210) are more suited to put their pads down and plow through contact.

But in the running backs room, Petersen said, ignore the method. What’s the result?

“Style, to me, doesn’t matter,” he said. “I just want them fast, breaking tackles, falling forward. Everybody’s got a little bit of a different style, but it really makes no difference. Sometimes maybe (we’d like) a bigger back for some short-yardage situations where you’re going to have to push some piles a little bit and inches really matter.

“But style’s kind of irrelevant, really, in terms of analyzing that.”

The same can be said for how UW’s available carries are eventually distributed.

“We’re not going to just play three guys to play three guys,” Petersen said. “They’ve got to be three guys (that are) deserving. We’ll play two guys if that’s what it takes. We’ll play one guy a lot more and spell (him occasionally). We’re saying we’re putting three guys in because we think we can win with that.”

But why stop at three? Sure, we know at least a few things Ahmed can already do. Pleasant and McGrew provide valuable versatility as well. But they aren’t the only ones who have begun to separate themselves in August.

“It’s nice to see Rich Newton in the mix and Cam Davis, because that pushes the group as well,” Petersen said. “You can tell those guys are going to be good players. I think that pushes everybody.”