Other than linemen, no regular player on the Idaho football roster was listed as heavier than 254-pound senior Elijhaa Penny.
Penny is a running back. A big, big running back, standing at 6-foot-2.
But perhaps he was a little too big last season, especially when coach Paul Petrino said in October, “Penny’s got to lose about seven pounds in his rear end.”
“It was actually kind of funny,” Penny said, “but it was true at the same time.”
After weighing himself at 247 pounds after last season’s finale, Penny said he and Petrino talked about cutting weight to add explosiveness, while still being able to flatten opposing tacklers.
Mission accomplished. Penny is playing this spring at 230 pounds, and it has made a difference.
“I was kind of scared to do it, because I’m not a scat back. I didn’t want to change my style,” Penny said. “I feel good. I want to be an every-down back, contribute more, make bigger plays.”
The Vandals’ leading rusher last season with 589 yards on 139 carries after transferring from Cerritos (Calif.) College, Penny did most of his damage in the red zone. He scored a team-high 12 TDs, the second-most in a season since 2001 and two more than Idaho backs had in 2012 and 2013 combined.
Running backs coach Jason Shumaker said he envisions Penny getting 25 carries a game. “If we’re getting him that many carries, you have a pretty good chance to win,” Shumaker said.
Penny doesn’t have one particular way he’s lost weight. “Staying committed” was key, he said. At 230 pounds, he’s still a tough guy to bring down.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. He did a lot of good stuff last year and was a real physical player,” Shumaker said. “So we’re definitely going to keep pushing for that. If he can give us another look, then great.”
Penny rushed 52 times for 274 yards, scoring three TDs in the first two scrimmages this spring. His long of 47 yards is 20 yards longer than any run he had last season. He had one carry for 5 yards before a leg injury in Monday’s scrimmage, but Petrino expects him back for Friday’s spring game.
Joining Penny in the backfield rotation will be speedy sophomore Aaron Duckworth and incoming freshman Calvary Pugh. The senior hopes he can provide more than a few of those long runs.
“I went back and watched film, saw 8-yard runs that could’ve been 20, 15 that could’ve been 40,” Penny said. “That’s my motivation.”