Lippincott competes for time at running back
Appeal Sports Writer
RENO – It was late December of last year when Luke Lippincott’s prayers we’re answered. He was getting a long-awaited shot to play running back for the Nevada Wolf Pack.
“It was right before the (Hawai’i) bowl game,” said Lippincott, who spent his first year as a reserve linebacker and then missed the 2005 season with a knee injury. “They (coaches) called me in and said that while they thought I could have a chance to start at strong safety, they needed running backs. They said if It didn’t work out in the spring, they would switch me back.
“I always wanted the coaches to try me out there. I would always joke around with coach (Jim) Mastro and ask him when I was going to get my chance.”
With starter Robert Hubbard sidelined by off-season sports hernia surgery, Lippincott, Kyle Eklund and Mike Kanellis received all the reps. Lippincott did well enough to still figure in the mix.
The group knows that head coach Chris Ault likes to use three players at running back, and the aforementioned trio plus Tim Ham are battling for the other two spots behind Hubbard. Ham returned to the team after leaving last season.
“I thought I did all right,” said Lippincott prior to Nevada’s first practice of fall camp. “I was still partially injured; not 100 percent. I’m fine now. I’m faster than I’ve ever been, I’m jumping higher and I’m stronger than I’ve ever been.”
Lippincott won the Power Wolf Award, the only running back to do so. Lippincott squats more than 500 pounds, clean and jerks 350 and bench presses 375. By the time he’s done, he hopes to hold all the records for running backs.
The redshirt sophomore admits he’s been chomping at the bit to put his surgically repaired knee to the test in a real game and for a long period of time, and he’s doing so without a brace because he feels it restricts him too much. The only hitting he did since the surgery was a couple of scrimmages.
“You always wait for that first hit (in a game),” Lippincott said. “Once I get through that first hit, I’ll calm down a little bit.
“I’ve been working hard all summer and before that to get my knee stronger. I did a good job in the weight room. That helped.”
Lippincott said it will be easier switching to running back than it would be if he were going from offense to defense.
“That’s why I like running back so much,” he said. “On defense, you are reacting to what the offense does. When I’m playing running back, I’m looking at the numbers and trying to make them miss. I wish this is where I’d been all along. It comes so easy to me.”
Lippincott has the weight and strength of a B.J. Mitchell with a little more speed. He’s more of a north-south runner; a slashing, between the tackles type of guy.
‘I love to hit,” he said. “I love to run over guys.”
Lippincott feels that may be the one thing that his fellow competitors don’t do. Eklund, Kanellis and Ham may be a bit quicker, but don’t have the physical strength that Lippincott has.
“We had nine running backs out there in spring practice,” he said. “I think all of us could get in there and perform (well). It’s always good to have that depth.”
Only time will tell how Lippincott fares. Ault said that he wants to create competition and depth during fall camp with his reserve running backs.
“It’s going to be a challenge (for Luke),” Mastro said. “He has a long ways to go yet. He worked hard in the off-season.”
And Lippincott hopes that hard work translates to playing time this year.