- Max Olson, ESPN Staff Writer
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AUSTIN, Texas – The three-headed monster that is Texas’ stable of running backs somehow sprouted a fourth head this past Saturday.
“Four-headed monster” doesn’t really have the same ring to it that three did. But for now, it’ll do.
“Yeah, I mean, you can call it that,” Texas sophomore back Johnathan Gray said. “You can get the ball in anybody’s hands in the RB room and they can make explosive plays.”
The converted quarterback made the most of his nine carries against New Mexico State. His teammates are excited to see what he can do for an encore.
“That’s a crazy transition for him,” Brown said. “Just seeing him going out there and being so natural at it is really fun.”
Even if Overstreet’s exploits came against a worn-out NMSU defense in the final minutes of a blowout, it’s hard to ignore what the redshirt freshman did in his first career game.
Who would’ve guessed the guy stuck behind three established veteran backs on the depth chart would finish the night as Texas’ leading rusher at 92 yards and two touchdowns?
The 38-yard touchdown to end the night was a sight to behold, no matter how tired the Aggies might’ve been. Overstreet took a handoff from Case McCoy, juked a safety, avoided a pursuing cornerback with a quick stiff arm and scampered the final 20 yards.
It’s the kind of run he made all the time back in his days at Tatum (Texas) High School, though they never began with a handoff. The breakout debut for Overstreet is, at the very least, affirmation that the conversion from quarterback to running back was worthwhile.
Last season, the gang of Brown, Bergeron, Gray and senior Jeremy Hills seemingly had as close a bond as any position group on the team. Gray and Brown both said that Overstreet fit right in with their trio when he first joined the running back room for meetings.
“He fits perfectly well with us,” Gray said. “We always hung around Jalen when he was a quarterback, so him moving to running back was just another position. We all accepted him as family and he’s doing a great job right now. The sky’s the limit for him.”
Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite likes the natural instincts that the 6-foot-2, 215-pound East Texas native offers. Mack Brown joked Monday that Overstreet has never blocked a day in his life, but Applewhite is seeing him make steady improvement on the intricacies of running back.
“There’s a lot of finer points to playing running back,” Applewhite said. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Hey, just hold onto the ball and show up at 3 o’clock when the bus leaves.’ But with running back, there’s a lot of finer points. He’s learning those now and starting to learn how to run with power.”
The running backs consider themselves a selfless unit and have no problem with seeing Overstreet get more reps as the season progresses. Gray says he’s earned the right to play.
The only downside to Overstreet’s rise? He won’t be able to catch defenses off-guard anymore. Brown liked that element of surprise entering the opener.
“They have no film on him, you know?” he said. “Just to have him pop in there, I believe, people wont really notice him and then all the sudden he’ll break one. Jalen is a great athlete and he’ll do great for us, early in the game or late in the game.”
What his role will be this weekend at BYU and going forward is hard to peg. Texas managed to spread the ball around fairly evenly between its top three backs in the opener, but that was a luxury that can’t be expected every week.
But there will be a place for Overstreet. He helped ensure that with the first nine carries of his young career.
“It’s not fair to him to say, ‘Well, they were just tired and that’s why he did good,’” Applewhite said. “No. He worked his butt off and did good because he’s worked hard.”