Ecklund shines for Pack football
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – One of the biggest question marks for Nevada entering spring practice was trying to find some running backs to complement starter Robert Hubbard.
Hubbard hasn’t been cleared for contact after undergoing surgery for a sports hernia. His absence has given fifth-year senior Kyle Eklund of Elko, converted safety Luke Lippincott, redshirt freshman Mike Kanellis of Spanish Springs and converted linebacker Mark Seward plenty of opportunities.
Eklund showed he is ready to take the No. 2 role into summer camp after carrying nine times for 73 yards, including a 56-yard TD run in Saturday’s scrimmage at Mackay Stadium.
“Eklund has had a nice spring,” Nevada head coach Chris Ault said after the 83-play scrimmage. “He’s 185-190 pounds. You have to run with quickness, and he’s done that all spring.
“He’s a senior. He’s paid his dues. There are no more excuses. He’s been banged up. I’m looking for three guys (at that spot).”
Indeed. Eklund has broken his collarbone twice and hurt his Achilles heel. In the past two years, he’s missed 17 games, and he’s ready to have a good going-out party.
“I’m not going into this to be a backup,” Eklund said. “I’m trying to earn a starting job. I think Hub wouldn’t expect anything less.
“I want to prove to everybody I can play and that I deserve playing time. I want to be one of the guys in the rotation getting carries.”
And, if the season started tomorow, Eklund would be the No. 2 guy, according to Jim Mastro, the Pack’s running backs coach.
“I’m really happy with Kyle,” Mastro said. “He gives us consistency. He does everything right.
“I’m happy with all four guys. Luke understands the position. The more he plays the better he gets. That position is a matter of repetition; reading it and seeing it.”
But in Eklund’s case, experience is paying big dividends.
“I offer experience,” Eklund said. “The other guys are young. I know our offense and I know what we’re trying to get accomplished. I bring toughness and desire.”
Lippincott carried eight time for 44 yards and Seward carried 11 times for 32 yards.
“Luke did a nice job,” Ault said. “We want him to learn faster. We’re counting on him. He was a good running back in high school.
“This is his (Seward’s) best chance to play. He’s getting tougher.”
Kanellis carried six times for 10 yards. He fumbled the ball on back-to-back plays in the second half of the scrimmage, and the defense recovered both times. Putting the ball on the ground doesn’t exactly endear a back to Ault.
“We need Mike to step up and play well,” Ault said. “He’s got great speed and he’s very strong. He’s got to learn to be a Nevada back.”
Ault recruited three running backs, and he’s hopeful that at least two of them can step into the rotation.
ROWE SHOWS HIS STUFF
Unofficially, senior quarterback Jeff Rowe completed 14 of 18 passes for 216 yards including a 21-yard scoring pass to Caleb Spencer on a fourth-and-3 play. He also scored the first of the offense’s four scores on a 1-yard run.
That 1-yard scoring run was set up by a 65-yard completion to sophomore wide receiver Jack Darlington.
“He’s ready to go,” Ault said. “He knows the offense. He’s better this spring.”
Rowe’s two backups are Nick Graziano, a redshirt freshman, and Ryan Sollod, who came to Nevada as a quarterback and was switched to defense last year, is back on offense. That move was made because of an injury to last year’s No. 2 quarterback Travis Moore, who tore a muscle lifting weights and won’t do anything until summer camp.
Graziano has nerve damage in his right thumb, thus can’t throw. Essentially he handed off and ran some option plays. He gained 15 yards on seven attempts.
“We’re keeping it in a splint,” Ault said. “We want to make sure the nerve heals up. He’ll have to have a real good spring (to move up).”
Sollod was 3-for-5 passing for 76 yards, including a 40-yarder to Spencer, who caught four passes for 104 yards. Sollod also scrambled for a first down rushing.
Overall, Ault liked the way his offense moved the ball.
“They got themselves into trouble with penalties, but still found a way to get out of the hole,” he said.
WILSON SHINES ON DEFENSE
Ault liked the play of defensive end Charles Wilson, who batted down two passes and recorded a sack. He’s also been impressed with the play of nose tackle Matt Hines this spring.
De’Angelo Wilson picked off a Sollod pass at the goal line and returned it 52 yards.
“I thought overall the defense was better than last week,” Ault said. “We need to be more consistent. We would stop them and then give up a big play. We can’t afford to do that .”
Ault was referring to a couple of series in the opening half.
The first came after three straight rushing plays by Lippincott left the offense three yards short of a first down. Rowe threw his lone TD pass on the next play.
The next one came three series later. After three incomplete passes by Rowe, the senior QB completed a 9-yard pass to Kyle Sammons, and then Eklund broke loose for his long TD run.