By Joe Scalzo
After being named the top freshman and the top newcomer in the Missouri Valley last season, the big question facing Youngstown State running back Martin Ruiz this season is: How can he get better?
Sophomore Jody Webb thinks he has the answer — try to take his job.
“It’s all about trying to be better than the guy ahead of you,” Webb said. “As we’re doing that, we’re not doing anything but making him better. So if we’re all getting better, then whoever’s number is called is not going to skip a beat.”
Graduation has left YSU with a lot of question marks this spring, particularly at quarterback and offensive line, but the only question at running back is how to get everyone enough carries.
Ruiz (5-foot-11, 195 pounds) had the biggest season, starting the final seven games while setting school freshman records in carries (192), yards (1,094) and TDs (15).
Webb (5-9, 170) added 345 yards rushing with six TDs and caught four passes for 92 yards, including a 39-yard TD against UNI. Third-stringer Demond Hymes, who won the starting job out of spring camp before battling an ankle injury, had 110 yards rushing and a TD.
YSU also added two early enrollees (freshmen Sidney Sandidge, who played at Fork Union Military Academy last fall, and Ryan Moore, who is battling a hamstring injury) to what was already the strongest position on the roster.
“We just did the roster for fall camp and we’ll have seven running backs in camp that can all play,” YSU coach Eric Wolford said. “I’m a big believer that you’ve got to have three running backs that can flat play. And really four. It’s a very physical league we play in and it’s inevitable that guys will get hurt. You have to have four running backs that can play.”
Wolford believes players should have to earn their starting job every year, regardless of what they did the previous year, and has challenged Ruiz to stay hungry.
“If he feels like he’s grandfathered in, he’ll never keep an edge to him,” Wolford said. “You hope he doesn’t get into one of those sophomore slumps, so I’m on him about staying hungry.”
“I don’t want to feel like the man because I had a lot of awards last year,” he said. “I have a lot of stuff I want to improve on. Little stuff like my steps and all that stuff. I want to do what I did last year, plus some more.”
Webb is the most explosive of the three, but he’s also the smallest. Hymes is probably the strongest and most physical, while Ruiz is a mixture of the two.
“They’re a good group and they’re good kids,” Wolford said. “They all bring something unique to the table.”
Webb feels having such talented competition will make everyone better.
“You have no choice but to step up,” he said. “If you’re out for one play and the next guy makes a great play, you never know if you’re going to get back in the next series.
“You’re either going to step up or step out. It’s as simple as that.”