Virginia running backs coach Larry Lewis had watched Daniel Hamm do it before on the practice field. In fact, it was that practice performance that earned Hamm some playing time last weekend when tailbacks Khalek Shepherd and Taquan Mizzell were held out of the Cavaliers’ 49-0 win over VMI because of injury.
It’s just that nobody expected the freshman to take that chance and run with it — literally — in his first-ever college game. Against the Keydets, Hamm finished with 21 carries, a team-high 136 yards, two touchdowns and a bunch of new believers.
“I was not really expecting what happened,” Hamm noted after it was over. “It was shocking actually, the performance I had.”
The walk-on from Wytheville, Va., wasn’t alone. Originally recruited to be a part of Virginia’s track and field program after he played running back for just one year at Fort Chiswell High, Hamm has “surprised” Lewis by making his decision-making process a bit more difficult.
Virginia suddenly has a crowded backfield.
Lewis is “still hopeful” Shepherd and Mizzell can return Saturday at Pittsburgh from ankle injuries suffered against Oregon on Sept. 7. But even if they’re back in the mix, Hamm may have forced his way into the rotation regardless.
“I think that Daniel Hamm has proven that he will have a role in what we’re doing and I think he can take pressure off the other guy,” Lewis said. “I think he did well enough that I think we can count on him.”
Junior Kevin Parks remains Virginia’s featured back, and he gained a season-high 135 yards against VMI. He has 260 yards through three games. But Lewis has been impressed with Hamm’s speed and consistency in practice and talked Wednesday about the threat he could become in the passing attack and in the return game.
“You’re always looking for dynamic players with speed, and the more that you have that can contribute to your team success, the better you’ll be,” Coach Mike London said. “It’s a good issue to have — with talented players, dynamic players. Now, we just have to utilize them to the best of their ability and make sure we help ourselves.”
Lewis believes there are enough snaps to play all four running backs, if necessary. So when asked about the mobility of quarterback David Watford on Wednesday, Lewis cracked that “he’d make a really good running back, except for I got four.”
“I think there’s certain things that each guy can do,” Lewis said of his tailbacks. “It’s a long season and we’re not very big back there and if your legs wear out, you’re done. So I think the more we can spell guys early, and keep rotating guys in, the more we can finish a lot stronger.”