Zach Charbonnet emerging as leader for UCLA

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — UCLA’s Zach Charbonnet quietly emerged as one of the top running backs in the Pac-12 last season after transferring from Michigan.

With the Bruins expected to possibly contend in the conference this year, the junior is looking to establish himself as one of the team leaders.

“That was one of my main points coming into this offseason was working on my leadership skills and just working on my vocal skills too,” Charbonnet said. “I have to take on that role, especially this year and trying to lead those running backs.”

Last season, Charbonnet led the Pac-12 with seven 100-yard rushing games and was second in average rushing yards per game (94.75). But it wasn’t until the offseason and spring practices that the junior began to emerge more as a team leader.

Running backs coach DeShaun Foster said Charbonnet stepping out of his comfort zone has benefitted the Bruins.

“For us to be a player-led team, it has to come from the leaders. Everybody respects him and he understood that and just ran with it,” Foster said.

UCLA coach Chip Kelly said he has seen Charbonnet excel in all facets of his game. Charbonnet’s quick impact in Westwood was a big reason the Bruins finished 8-4 last season and earned a bowl berth for the first time since 2017.

“A lot of the kids joke around and call him a cyborg but he just goes every day, he practices every day, he doesn’t miss a rep,” Kelly said. “Anything that we ask our guys to do, he’s there full speed and more. I think all the great ones are like that. They always just want to get a little bit better on a daily basis and Zach really kind of epitomizes that for us.”

Charbonnet’s biggest improvements coming into the season have centered around pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield. With the departures of Kyle Philips and Greg Dulcich for the NFL, Charbonnet is UCLA’s leading returning receiver with 24 receptions.

Even though Charbonnet had at least 28 touches in the final two games of last season and six games with at least 21 carries, Foster said a reasonable workload would be around 25 touches per game.

“I think you can tell stuff is slowing down for him. He has all the tools, it’s just finetuning it,” Foster said. “It’s just little things outside of running, like catching, pass pro. It’s all stuff he can do but just improving, so it’s just the overall game.”

Charbonnet is up to 223 pounds, but his body fat is under 5%. As one of the leading returning running backs in a Power Five program, he is trying to block out the distractions that come with increased visibility.

“I don’t think about all that other stuff, all the preseason stuff, I don’t pay it too much time,” he said. “I just try to come in every day and do what I can and play to the best of my ability.”

With Charbonnet established as the lead running back, there is still competition for the remaining carries. Deshun Murrell, Keegan Jones, Tomarion Harden and Kazmeir Allen remain in the mix.

The Bruins have excelled with two backs in Kelly’s four years at UCLA. Kelly lauded Jones for his progress during the first two weeks of preseason camp while Allen could see time at running back and wide receiver.

UCLA opens its season Sept. 3 against Bowling Green.

“It’s a two-back system, two-back league, everybody has two backs, you’ve just got to be able to stay healthy and you don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the year,” Foster said. “I want to get everybody developed as much as I can.”

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.