Based on the preseason prognosticators, the LSU Tigers are the home of the premier group of running backs in all of college football.
The position runs six deep with starting-quality talent. With this much talent, the daily challenge is not for the anyone who has bouts with self-esteem.
"I have a balance of power, speed and moves, also a downhill runner," says one confident LSU runner, junior Alfred Blue.
Back during the recruiting process, the former Hahnville High star stepped up to accept the challenge that LSU presented, initially courted by then-running backs coach Larry Porter followed by current assistant Frank Wilson. "They told me that they'll play the best players," Blue said. "I knew where I would be going. I knew that I could play (at LSU)."
The high school blue-chipper Blue (6'2-220) viewed the 2009 backfield full of Tiger seniors (Charles Scott, Keiland Williams and Trindon Holliday) and saw opportunity to find college playing time early in his career.
The District 6-5A 2009 offensive MVP decided that LSU was the best fit, but not before giving careful consideration to offers from Auburn, Ole Miss, Colorado, Texas A&M and Tulsa among others.
Though seen by many as a straight-ahead power back, Blue likens his skills to current Miami Dolphins multi-purpose runner Reggie Bush, with a little flavoring of Minnesota Vikings superback Adrian Peterson.
"(Bush) breaks people down; he'll make you miss. (Peterson) runs determined. In his mind no one can stop him."
Alfred may possess the most diverse overall skill set among his current LSU backfield mates to be a feature back. He ran the third leg of both the state qualifying 4 X 100 and 4 X 200 relay teams while at Hahnville. Blue was also an early success story on the prep gridiron. During his sophomore season (2007), he had 26 carries for 301 yards and four touchdowns against St. Amant.
"They kept feeding me the ball," he recalled." I didn't realize that I had so many yards. I wasn't tired at the end. I was in a zone."
Blue grew on- and off-the-field while in high school thanks to his head coach, Lou Valdin, who he credits as "a great coach and motivator who helped make me the best that I can be, but always told me to be humble."
The St. Amant contest was a gauge of great things to come, on the field that was in bad shape due to inclement weather conditions. The young runner carried his team on his back.
"It was a very, very close game. A back and forth battle," recalled Valdin. "We needed the game for the district championship. (Blue) basically took the game over in the fourth quarter."
Valdin cited the unique talents of Blue. "He's got size. I never, ever remember him getting knocked back. He's a glider, not like Barry Sanders. He's got a low center of gravity and knows how to run and not let the defenders get a clean shot at him."
It has come as no surprise to Valdin that Blue continues to earn playing time despite the competition for snaps in Baton Rouge. "We knew that he had talent, but he's the total package, great vision, great strides, low center of gravity, always falls forward. He can pass protect and block. Some recruiters looked at him as a receiver."
Valdin doesn't dismiss another key quality to fuel Blue's current success. "He's an outstanding character kid."
Ever since the former three-star recruit joined the fray in Tigertown, he has been a key component of the LSU ground attack. In only the second game of his college career during the 2010 season, Alfred raced for a seven-yard touchdown, his college first. The following week, Blue earned a start, rewarding the team with 36 yards on just five carries.
The nation's top rated backfield in college football today have given themselves the moniker 'trained assassins'. With no clear-cut All-American in the stable of runners, the Tigers are powered by an abundance of high-quality talent all deserving of time to shine.
"Everybody wants to start," Blue analyzed. "But whenever my number is called, I'll do what I do best. When you're in the zone, seize the moment."
Blue claims that there is no glancing over your shoulder with a fear of being replaced, but more of a espirit de corps among the LSU runners. "It's friendly competition. We push each other in games, try to outdo one another. We all want to be game changers."
Blue holds that best LSU average per carry among the backs (6.9 yards per carry). He totaled 539 yards with seven touchdowns in 2011. The competition for playing time is friendly but fierce. Each must be ready to go at a moment's notice. He assessed each of his backfield mate's skill set:
"Spencer Ware (707 yards, 8 TDs, 4.45 forty) is a power guy who runs hard, can catch out of the backfield and is mobile."
"Michael Ford (756 yards, 7 TDs, 4.4 forty) hits the edge. Once he's in front of you, it's hard to catch him."
"Kenny Hilliard (336 yards, 8 TDs) has great balance and will break you down. Within just 10 yard, he'll get loose."
" Terrence Magee (133 yards, 1 touchdown) has so much power. He's the most powerful, runs hard. He's a one-cut back, a north/south runner who's very determined."
"Jeremy Hill (true freshman) shined at times (spring practice) but he's not completely comfortable yet. He is learning. When he's comfortable, he'll be similar to Kenny."
The big crowd offers some interesting scenarios to the competitors, always trying to get on the field. As a result, LSU coaches toyed with the idea of experimenting with Alfred playing on the defensive side of the ball. "I was approached about being moved to linebacker or safety. The defensive coaches asked me about switching, but it was never really a consideration for me."
Blue has been a warrior in the weight room during off-season workouts, boasting a 340 pound bench press and 430 squat yet displaying breakaway speed with a 4.45 forty. He has gained 13 pounds to his frame since 2011.
A tireless worker who is constantly searching for an edge, Blue has trained with speed and conditioning guru Duke Rousse at The Duke Academy in suburban New Orleans for the past five years. An experienced trainer who has worked with many NFL athletes, Rousse has witnessed a metamorphosis with Blue. "He runs like the wind. No days off, first in and last to leave. He has put in the time, has an NFL physique and God-given ability."
Duke believes the sometimes-underestimated member of the LSU running back posse is more than just a complimentary player. "You can tell he was going to be special . He could pass for a basketball player or track star, very explosive. He's got great feet, vision and always stays humble. He's a great football player, but an even better person. A real character guy."
Blue explains that he has made great strides working with Rousse and alongside the NFL players. "(Duke) pushes me to the limit and helped me realize expectations inside of me that I didn't think that I could achieve."
The 2012 campaign looks to be even more promising than the undefeated 2011 regular season for LSU. On offense, the line, wide receiver and quarterback spots sppear toi have been upgraded.
"We only lost two players on the O-line (Will Blackwell and T-Bob Hebert). We've got two great tackles (Chris Faulk and Alex Hurst), guards La' El Collins, Josh Williford and Josh Dworacyzk and center P.J. Lonergan. All of them have been in tough situations. They can all handle pressure.
"The young receivers are all a year older. There are big expectations. Key players in key positions; all have grown and matured."
One player under the microscope is receiving rave reviews from his teammates. The new starting quarterback, junior Zach Mettenberger, appears to be the real deal.
"He's much better, more complete," said Blue about Mettenberger in comparision to the previous starter Jordan Jefferson, Blue's second cousin. "(Mettenberger) stays strong in the pocket and will face the rush. The receivers trust Zach more. Last year with two quarterbacks, we couldn't always get into a rhythm."
Blue has given serious consideration to his future and appears to have his ducks in a row. Don't expect him to jump ship early for the riches of the NFL. "I'm definitely coming back," he responded when quizzed if he might consider leaving following the upcoming season. "I want my degree (2.7 GPA in Sports administration) and will graduate in December 2013."
His sights are set on exceeding 1,000 yards rushing, scoring 10 touchdowns and averaging over six yards per carry, while earning All American honors. Expect plenty of 'Blue' skies on the ground for the Purple and Gold again this Fall.
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