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.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.