It was difficult to miss him. The white No. 20 jersey of John Moten darted through holes. It flew down the sideline. It plunged into the far end zone of Northwestern's practice field at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, Wis.
Every single report coming out of the program this past August about Moten, a freshman running back from Missouri, was a positive one. He's a great kid. He's a talented runner. He's powerful. He's agile. He was one of the standout performers in that intrasquad scrimmage up in Kenosha.
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He also had virtually no chance to see the field in 2015. No matter how impressive Moten was in training camp, he had a redshirt waiting for him. That's because a year before Moten had drawn rave reviews, Justin Jackson had done the same. So had, to a lesser extent, Solomon Vault. Same with Warren Long a year earlier.
Instead, Moten stepped into line. It was a long line. It was and is a growing line. While the rest of Northwestern's offense has been plagued by volatility and a lack of talent, the Wildcats have built a deep, exciting stable of running backs. Naturally, some will just have to wait their turn.
Jeremy Larkin is the next man up. Larkin is the top-rated player in Northwestern's 2016 recruiting class. His highlight tape is a mouth-watering, daydream-inducing, downright silly collection of jukes, bursts, broken tackles, balance and breakaway speed.
"Jeremy is a great fit to our offense, very similar style of running back to backs that we currently have on the roster," Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald said Wednesday at his Signing Day press conference. "He plays in a similar scheme offensively... And then his ability to play with the ball in his hands in a lot of ways, running the ball, catching the ball, he's got really good return skills. We think he's the complete package."
Larkin, like Moten, will probably have to wait his turn. But he'll get his chance sooner rather than later.
"You may think competition might scare a guy away," Fitzgerald said Wednesday. "If a guy's afraid of competition, I'm not sure he's a great fit for our program. I'm not sure I'm a good fit for him as a coach."
Because Jackson played as a true freshman though, the Wildcats' undisputed lead back is two classes ahead of Moten and three ahead of Larkin (and fellow incoming freshman Jesse Brown). In fact, because Jackson and Solomon Vault eschewed redshirts, that line of running backs is neatly in order:
Warren Long, Senior
Justin Jackson, Junior
Solomon Vault, Junior
Auston Anderson, Sophomore
John Moten, Redshirt Freshman
Jeremy Larkin, Incoming Freshman
Jesse Brown, Incoming Freshman
Vault might move to receiver. Brown is more of an unknown quantity. Even taking those two out of the equation, Northwestern has potentially electrifying running backs in five straight classes, and, with Larkin in tow, is set at the position for years to come.
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