KNOXVILLE — Jalen Hurd is ready to make his bid to become the greatest running back in Tennessee history with Travis Henry’s 3,078 career rushing yards in his sights.
Hurd, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound thoroughbred from the Nashville suburb of Hendersonville, said he’s “absolutely” wanting to set that mark this season.
“Now that it’s reachable, and you can see it, I definitely want to do that,” said Hurd, who has 2,187 career rushing yards, averaging 4.6 yards per carry to the 5.5 that the 5-9, 230-pound Henry powered his way to during UT’s glory years.
“That (rushing record) is a goal of mine. The biggest goal for me is to help get my team a national championship.”
Indeed, Henry led the Vols to a national championship in 1998, carrying the team on his back after future NFL 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis was lost for the season to a knee injury in the fourth game of the season at Auburn.
While Henry continued to split carries with Travis Stephens — No. 11 on the all-time rushing chart (below) — Hurd will share carries with fellow junior Alvin Kamara.
Hurd said Thursday he’s fine with that, as he likely realizes the importance of staying healthy for the duration of the season.
In fact, Hurd was wearing a green no-contact jersey on Thursday and did not take part in the “thud” scrimmage the media was allowed to see.
Both Hurd and Coach Butch Jones said it would be important for him to get some contact and work in fall drills, so it seemed a bit surprising he wouldn’t be taking the first reps of the season and leading the way for the offense.
“Contact is always good for a running back,” Hurd said. “Beginning of camp, you’ve got to get your body back used to getting hit, taking awkward shots.”
Jones said there’s a plan in place for keeping Hurd ready without risking injury.
“It is a fine line; I know that come game day, Jalen Hurd will be ready,” Jones said at his press conference on Thursday. “What we have to do is make sure we get him his touches in practice. A back like that has to take hits at times.
“A back will get hit and get tackled. We have to do a great job of managing that. We have a plan in place for that.”
Hurd made his own plan to train in Orange County, Calif., over the summer.
The rising star explained he received a different sort of training out there that wasn’t available in Knoxville alongside his teammates.
“I was mostly just working on explosion, top-end speed, just working on things I don’t get to work on too much around UT,” Hurd said. “We do a lot of explosive work, and we run a lot, but you try to find new things that you don’t do here, and you try to implement that in your game when you go away, and you try to work by yourself.
“Just opening my stride up a little bit, flexibility was a big key with (California trainer), and it was a lot of different training. It was more core, balance. We didn’t lift a lot of weights, we did a lot of bands, lot of your own body weight, and I would say more explosion than speed.”
Hurd said he can feel the difference, but he won’t know for sure until game time when his bursts are completely live.
Jones said he was OK with Hurd taking his training to another state during the break, but he was not OK with Hurd jumping on a treadmill at 23 mph for a video.
“This is a very driven group and if they have an opportunity over break, they just have to understand their bodies, and as long as it doesn’t affect them in terms of rest or recovery, I’m fine with that,” Jones said. “I do think it’s a balancing act.
“In terms of looking and seeing that (Hurd’s treadmill sprint) on video, I had to look the other way and pretend I didn’t see it, and then he got lectured from me with a phone call, in terms of taking care of himself and being smart.”
Hurd will be a face of the Tennessee program this season, and he indicated he’ll be showing up for his media interviews as scheduled, likely enhancing the publicity he’ll receive as a Hesiman Trophy candidate.
Here’s a look at Tennessee’s all-time rushing list, including yards per carry:
1. Travis Henry (1997-2000), 3,078 yards, 5.5 yards per carry
2. Arian Foster (2005-08), 2,964 yards, 4.6 ypc
3. James Stewart (1991-94), 2,890 yards, 5.4 ypc
4. Johnnie Jones (1981-84), 2,852 yards, 5.5 ypc
5. Jamal Lewis (1997-99), 2,677 yards, 5.5 ypc
6. Cedric Houston (2001-04), 2,634 yards, 5.4 ypc
7. Jay Graham (1993-96), 2,609 yards, 4.8 ypc
8. Montario Hardesty (2005-09), 2,391 yards, 4.3 ypc
9. Curt Watson (1969-71), 2,364 yards, 4.5 ypc
10. Reggie Cobb (1987-89), 2,360 yards, 5.3 ypc
11. Travis Stephens (1997-2001), 2,336 yards, 4.8 ypc
12. Jalen Hurd (2014- ), 2,187 yards, 4.7
13. Rajion Neal (2010-2013), 2,163 yards, 4.9 ypc
14. Charlie Garner (1992-93), 2,091 yards, 6.7 ypc
15. Aaron Hayden (1991-94), 2,061 yards, 5.2 ypc.
16. Stanley Morgan (1973-76), 1,952 yards, 5.5 ypc
17. Gerald Riggs Jr. (2002-05), 1,893 yards, 4.9 ypc
18. Beattie Feathers (1931-33), 1,888 yards, 6.1 ypc
19. Tauren Poole (2008-11), 1,883 yards, 4.5 ypc
20. Andy Kozar (1950-52), 1,837 yards, 5.2 ypc
In the comments section below, please name the runner you believe to be the greatest tailback in Tennessee history.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.