A Tale of Two Running Backs for UAlbany
By Aaron Cheris
September 22, 2015
It’s hard to replace a superstar. Just ask the University at Albany football team. Running back Omar Osbourne took a pile of accolades with him after graduating in May following UAlbany’s 7-5 season in 2014.
In four years on the team, Osbourne finished with 3,229 rushing yards to place third in the UAlbany record book. Twenty-nine career touchdowns and a first-team All-CAA mention make his act a tough one to follow.
Now, UAlbany is relying on a pair of freshmen to do just that.
“Omar was a special player and he did a lot of great things for us. He was a tremendous back,” UAlbany offensive coordinator Joe Bernard said. “We were fortunate in recruiting this year to get some quality backs.”
The new running backs are Elliot Croskey and Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks. Neither had carried the ball in a collegiate game before this season, but that isn’t getting in their way as they create a new path for the Great Danes.
“Omar was a great back and just watching film on him, seeing what worked for him, and some of the things that he did, it definitely motivated me to want to be better,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “I feel as though he set the standards high, so it’s up to the next back to break it. That’s my main goal.”
“From Omar, I learned patience, hard work, and his dedication to the game,” Croskey said.
Last year, Croskey took a redshirt season to get acclimated to the UAlbany program. The familiarity with the team gave Croskey a lead on the competition for the starting job this summer.
“I think just being in our program for a year and being a redshirt helped him,” Bernard said of Croskey. “The other guys were true freshmen. He’s been at practice, he knows the rigors of college football and that gave him an edge there.”
Even though Croskey earned the starting job in the offseason, it was Ibitokun-Hanks who made a splash in week one.
After Croskey struggled for just 32 yards on 12 carries in the season opener at Buffalo, UAlbany brought Ibitokun-Hanks into the game for a spark.
In his first collegiate game, Ibitokun-Hanks delivered. On just 11 carries, Ibitokun Hanks ran for 74 yards and a touchdown as Buffalo beat UAlbany 51-14. Ibitokun-Hanks was named CAA Rookie of the Week for his strong performance.
“That being my first collegiate game, going into that game and being able to win that award my first week out, it was definitely motivating and I was glad that I was able to do that for the team,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “I want to do whatever it takes to put the team in the best position to win.”
After a disappointing week one, Croskey was determined to put that behind him heading into UAlbany’s home opener against Rhode Island.
Croskey delivered by running for 141 yards and two fourth quarter touchdowns as UAlbany crushed Rhode Island 35-7. Like Ibitokun-Hanks before him, Croskey was named CAA Rookie of the Week for his performance.
“[The award] means a lot, but I need to give most of the credit for the offensive line for making it possible,” Croskey said. “The offensive line had a great push throughout the game, which created a space for me to run.”
“He was focused in. He got confidence as he got more carries. That’s why we rode him out in the second half,” Bernard said.
In week three at James Madison, both Croskey and Ibitokun-Hanks had strong games. In the second quarter, Croskey broke free for a 27-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 14. In the fourth quarter, Ibitokun-Hanks scored on a seven-yard touchdown run. Croskey finished 102 yards rushing and Ibitrokun-Hanks added 75 in the 42-28 road loss.
Both players should see their fair share of carries the rest of the season as the Great Danes young offense tries to win games.
“We plan on playing them both multiple series,” Bernard said. “Whoever gets hot, we’re going to ride him in the fourth quarter.”
“I’m definitely just taking care of my opportunities. Once you get the opportunity to go in, just do what you have to do. But hey, we’re a family,” Ibitokun-Hanks said. “We’re all part of the UAlbany family. If one back does his job, that back does his job. You just stay behind him and motivate him and make sure he’s doing his thing.”
UAlbany hosts Duquesne next Saturday at 3 p.m. at Bob Ford Field.