Competition brewing at running back

All eyes will be on Kenny Harper in the fall, and he knows it.

Temple’s lone senior at running back leads the Owls’ backfield in experience and by example, and is seemingly headed for another season penciled in atop the depth chart.

Yet, this time, the Gainesville, Fla. native knows he’ll be dubbed as one of the leaders of the Owls’ offense in 2014.

“It’s a big challenge,” Harper said. “I’m kind of used to it right now with the last two years. It’s a little challenging because everybody looks at you and it’s hard for you to slip up.”

“If you do something wrong people say, ‘Kenny did that,’” Harper added. “You have to set a good example for the team and a lot of the young guys follow you.”

Harper said he felt Temple’s lost 2013 season was a personal struggle, as he rushed for 613 yards on 136 attempts, averaged 51.1 yards per game and amassed nine touchdowns in his first season as a starter.

“It was a tough season for me,” Harper said. “I could’ve done a lot better. I didn’t know a lot about the game as far as game experience goes because I never had the starting role before then.”

Having already split time with sophomore Zaire Williams last season, the senior’s quest to be the No. 1 piece at halfback will not be a simple one.

Williams finished last season with 533 yards on 101 carries in 11 games, crossing into the endzone three times.

Junior Jaime Gilmore picked up 179 yards on the ground in limited action last season, but ran for 92 yards in Temple’s 41-21 season-finale defeat of Memphis on Nov. 30. The Ocala, Fla. native has seen first-team action in a productive camp.

Junior Hassan Dixon adds further spice to the running back conversation as a 5-foot-9, 175-pound speedster out of Germantown, Md. Though the redshirt junior has yet to take a regular-season handoff, Dixon has special teams experience with the team and could give coach Matt Rhule another speed option in the back, along with an intriguing prospect in freshman David Hood (Absegami High School).

“Dixon is probably the fastest guy on our team and he brings speed,” Rhule said. “Hood is a bit of a slasher, and they all have different styles to go along with Kenny’s [size].”

While the squad offers running-back depth this August, Rhule hinted he likely will stick with his experienced senior in Harper as his No. 1 back after Tuesday’s session, which marked the first day of contact.

“Kenny got off to a slow start [in camp] but the last few days he’s been impressive,” Rhule said. “Gilmore and [Williams] have been very focused which is good. You have to look at [Tuesday]. [Tuesday] was the first day where were really hitting and I’ll have to watch the tape to see who has [stood out], but I’d say probably Kenny.”

“We all want the same thing and we’re a team at the same time,” Gilmore said. “Guys out here are trying to get what they want but at the same thing we’re still a team. There can’t be any guys getting mad at each other outside of this. You just have to show what you got and your effort.”

Though Gilmore may lack the in-game pedigree of Harper and Williams, he said he’s gunning for a starting role in this camp, regardless of resumes.

“Nothing you do, you do to be second,” Gilmore said. “I’m here to be the starter.”

Andrew Parent can be reached at andrew.parent@temple.edu or on Twitter @daParent93. 

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