Alabama Football: Bo Scarbrough’s weight loss shows need for change

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Bo Scarbrough
ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03: Bo Scarbrough /

Alabama football running back Bo Scarbrough has a bigger role with the team since he has lost weight. It’s a sign that ‘faster’ is more important than ‘bigger’.

Imagine having a running back like Barry Sanders on the same team as Thurman Thomas. Both of them future NFL Hall-of-Famers. It happened for Oklahoma State University. The Cowboys had both of them in 1986, with Thomas starting. That’s right, the great Barry Sanders was actually the understudy to Thomas.

Sanders had to find a way to be noticed for two years, and he did it by leading the entire country in yards per kickoff return (31.6). Special teams, where speed is more praised than power, helped OSU decide that Sanders would start after Thomas left for professional football.

Star running backs like Sanders and Thomas were never that big or heavy, which was good since they used their speed and moves to make defenders look like they broke their ankles. Strength in their legs and their ability to catch the ball were just as important as the strength in their arms to push a defensive line back.

Scarbrough has come to see the same light, both in his weight and in his game.

Michael Casagrande of reported Scarbrough’s epiphany, when Scarbrough discussed a teammate friendly teasing him about making any athletic-looking catches or dropping passes: “‘I was like, if I lose a little weight, then I can catch it,’ Scarbrough said. So he did. About 15 pounds came off his 6-foot-2 frame in an effort that will remain secret.”

Scarbrough continued by saying, “My body feels more clean […] It feels more stable so I can move the way I want to move and I’m able to do some of the things I couldn’t do.”

That good feeling is part of why Scarbrough’s production has increased. All of last season, he caught only four passes for 22 yards, averaging 5.5 yards a catch. This season, Scarbrough has already caught six passes for 55 yards, averaging 9.2 yards a catch. The output is happening all while averaging a bit more rushing carries than last year.

When Scarbrough broke his leg in the championship game, he could have seen less playing time with fellow junior Damien Harris and freshman Najee Harris, virtual clones to Scarbrough, picking up the slack. Instead, Scarbrough has more carries and catches than both of his teammates. Keeping himself in shape has helped him accomplish that feat.

Scarbrough believes that losing weight has helped him do that, and why not?

Football has been moving more to speed that carries power, rather than strictly big-weight muscle, for over a decade. Alabama football head coach Nick Saban pays Strength and Conditioning Coach Scott Cochran a ton of money for that very reason: players need to generate power from lighter frames that can keep up with faster opponents.

In Scarbrough’s case, he was formerly considered by fans and college football experts to be simply a power running back. A great power back who could run up the gut of any offensive line and move D-Line and linebackers back into the secondary levels with his strength. Scarbrough was the running back that Alabama wanted to get the yard or two that they needed on key downs.

Now, by being lighter and moving more athletically, it does not matter which down it is. Scarbrough can handle any job, whether it is a run up the middle, a screen pass, a slant route, or any play that the offense wants to run.

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That is exactly what Alabama football starting quarterback Jalen Hurts needed, this season. With so many offensive weapons leaving for the NFL this year, especially tight end OJ Howard, Hurts needed to find someone who could handle any down and be trusted to catch the football in any situation. All of the Hurts doubters kept saying that he would not trust anyone and would just tuck the ball to run any time the game was on the line.

Scarbrough has changed that mindset. Now, Hurts can go to him because Scarbrough has the confidence that he can make the big catch as well as the big run to help his team. That confidence has caught on to Hurts who uses Scarbrough more often than ever before.

The days of being specialized as a power running back are over for anyone wanting to be a star in college football. Offenses are moving with the times, as linebackers and defensive linemen are moving more and more like NFL star JJ Watt: fast and agile. Offensive coordinators and quarterbacks are trusting running backs, or any player on the field, who can move quickly and catch any ball thrown their way.

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Scarbrough realized that fact just in time, or else someone named Harris would be ahead of him in the team’s plans for success. The more that Alabama’s offensive players realize that conditioning is as important as strength, the offense can then try more plays that involve multiple looks. Offensive linemen and running backs can be asked to move to the secondary level on the field and do more things to help the team. The more that the player can do, the more he is noticed and trusted. Just ask Mr. Sanders.

No more will anyone see a traditional Alabama football running attack dominating over their opponents. And, it’s looking more and more that that’s a good thing.