Football

Is Justin Stockton Ready to be the Guy?

Photo via Kwan Wallace @ Flickr

Is Justin Stockton ready to be “the man” at running back for Texas Tech and should we hope that he changes his game or should we be hoping he plays the same way he has before?

Photo via Kwan Wallace @ Flickr

Kliff Kingsbury said as much during spring practices that Justin Stockton is the prohibitive favorite right now to be the at running back. There’s also the thought that, at least for me, that as talented as Stockton is, will he be the every down back that Texas Tech had in DeAndre Washington last year or will he continue to be that change of pace or passing threat that has been incredibly valuable for this team.

Before we get to the football part, I do want to remind folks that Stockton is a father. I remember when I read that Eric Ward was a father while at Texas Tech (something I couldn’t even imagine doing while in college) and I suppose you tend to go one of two ways. You either adjust accordingly and you don’t get to do all of the things you want to do as a college student or you turn your back. It appears that Stockton has done the former and embraced being a father:

Stockton’s mother, Melissa, originally worried he wasn’t mature enough to handle the pressures of fatherhood. But growing up in a family with only a single mother impressed upon him the importance of being a big part of his son’s life, she said.

“They are so young,” she said. “But I’m very proud of him handling the situation like the young man that he is. He’s trying to do everything right. My kid’s father wasn’t there for him, so I think that’s why Justin wants to be there for his own little boy.

“That makes me more proud, knowing he’s only 20 years old, he’s trying to go to school, trying to do football and be a young man at a young age. I love how he is handling this.”

It’s not easy balancing the demands of a student, father and football player. But Stockton is embracing the challenges with determination as he prepares for Tech’s game Saturday at Arkansas.

“I’m still growing into this role,” he said. “Having a beautiful baby boy makes you mature more and grow up. You see things a lot differently.”

Sometimes you want the dream of an NFL career a bit more when you have a child. I’ve never talked to Jakeem Grant, but I’m all but certain it was a motivating factor for Grant as he worked his way onto an NFL roster with the Miami Dolphins.

Stockton has played behind Washington for the past two years. There are a couple of things at play here. First, Washington is/was a fan favorite. Fans of Texas Tech football, me included, loved what Washington did. Washington’s return to the field to be better and stronger than prior to his injury as well as being a workhorse for this football team. Second, the coaching staff absolutely trusted Washington, who had 233 carries last year to just 61 for Stockton. There’s no doubt that Washington earned that trust, averaging over 6.40 yards a carry, which was actually better than Stockton’s yards per carry, which was 6.02.

Washington’s cult-hero status has set a bar of expectations for the running backs at Texas Tech. It seemed as if there wasn’t that bar where I thought that the running backs could play at and Washington did that. Before Washington arrived on the scene, Texas Tech was near the back-end of the rankings for yards gained on the ground but Washington changed that last year. Texas Tech finished 40th in yards rushing last year, although a large part of that was the ability of Patrick Mahomes running for 456 yards last year. Having a true running threat at quarterback changes things.

Stockton’s presence was certainly on display early in the year, where he had 48 carries for the first 8 games, but by the back end of the year, Stockton only carried the ball 13 times in the last 5 games. Stockton’s carries went down from 6 over the first 8 games to about two and a half over the course of the last five games. That’s probably more a testament to Washington than anything that Stockton did, but maybe that’s the point with all of this.

The general perception is that Washington was so good over the middle of the field, between the tackles, no one wanted to see anyone else carry the ball. At our hearts, even Texas Tech fans love smash-mouth football and Washington gave that to us in spades.

Meanwhile, Stockton lived up to his nickname, The Flash, because that’s exactly what he was. When he broke free, it was church and a touchdown more times than not. Those yards are ridiculously important, but I think what we as fans learned, is that those yards between the tackles are maybe the most important yards.

I’m not exactly sure if a true between the tackles running back is in Stockton’s DNA and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Stockton seems to lack wiggle, at least right now. The ability to dance. When Stockton runs, he ain’t got no time for your dance, he needs to get down the field. Patience is probably the toughest thing to learn as a running back, and guys like Washington can really figured out that ability to be patient with knowing when to burst. Stockton is still figuring that out.

From a maturity standpoint, I think Stockton’s got this. He’s already heaped a ton on his plate on his own personal life and from an outsider’s perspective, he’s got it figured out. The thing that I think Stockton has to learn is his ability to be patient. And honestly, I don’t know if that’s what we should be hoping for. Maybe we should be hoping that Stockton doesn’t really change at all and continues to improve on being that absolute home run threat. If Texas Tech needs someone to wiggle, I’d put my money on Demarcus Felton, although he’s got home run ability too.

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