The Naturals: Freshmen running backs turning heads early in practice
|Wednesday, March 17, 2021, 8:01 AM- -|
Most freshmen running backs don’t look the part. Not right away. There is weight to be gained, muscles to be sculpted and shoulders to be broadened. Not Phil Mafah and Will Shipley. They looked the part the second they stepped on campus.
Mafah and Shipley have raised more than a few eyebrows with their performances during the first part of spring practice. Mafah looks like a fire hydrant with speed, while Shipley looks like he’s been in the weight room since he popped out of the womb.
Senior running back Lyn-J Dixon has taken notice.
"Pretty much both of the freshman (running backs), Phil and Will," Dixon said. "They're coming out and matching what we have, those guys were working. Even though they were tired, they were picking it up and pushing it. So that showed me something about those guys, that they're gonna be pretty good in a couple of years."
Head coach Dabo Swinney says the two freshmen are “naturals.”
“They are both natural players. They were both incredibly well coached in high school. They are coming from systems where they were asked to do similar things,” Swinney said. “So, I am really excited about both of those guys. They are way ahead of the curve.”
Both players entered school with top credentials. Mafah was a unanimous top-300 player nationally, ranked No. 178 by 247Sports, which also listed him as the 11th-best running back in the nation and 16th-best player in Georgia. He was ranked No. 148 by Rivals.com, which ranked him as the eighth-best running back in the nation and 12th-best player in Georgia. Mafah was also an ESPN300 member who was listed as a four-star prospect by all services.
Shipley was ranked as a five-star prospect by 247Sports and as a high four-star by ESPN.com and Rivals.com. He was ranked as the No. 21 overall player in the nation by ESPN.com, which also listed him as the second-best running back in the nation and second-best player from North Carolina. Shipley was rated as the No. 1 all-purpose running back and No. 45 overall player in the nation by Rivals.com. He was ranked No. 52 by 247Sports, the nation’s best all-purpose back and third-best player in North Carolina.
Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott likes what he’s seen, especially in a recent scrimmage.
“Then today in our work, Phil Mafah, he flashed," Elliot said. "I think everybody's like, 'Man, that's a big guy,' but everything has been controlled. Today we kind of got out the way and let him play man, and he popped a big long run, and you saw that that explosion that he has. You know and Shipley, every time we see that cat -- man, he's flying around 100 miles an hour. So the best thing is that there's competition there."
While Elliott mentioned Mafah, quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is a big fan of Shipley.
"Another guy I'd probably say on the offensive side is Will Shipley," Uiagalelei said. "During all the mat drills, all of practice and stuff he just looks real great out here. He's a really fast running back and you can just tell he has that mindset to him where he just wants to come out and compete. You can just tell he's really locked in and really focused."