PSU: Ricky Slade to fill shoes of previous running backs

By CORY GIGER

For The Express

UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s now Ricky Slade’s turn to take over the high-profile role of lead tailback at Penn State, and he can’t wait.

Slade is supremely confident in his abilities and promises big things.

“I’m looking forward to it a lot,” Slade said with a big smile. “It’s going to be a great season. I just can’t wait to get out on the field and show people what I can do.

“I’m going to take advantage of this opportunity, and I’m going to show you guys what I can do.”

So, what can Slade do?

“The ceiling?” he said when asked about his potential. “I don’t think there is a ceiling for me. I think I can be as great as I want to be. I’ve just got to put my mind to it. … As far as this year, you’ve just got to watch.”

Slade spent last season watching Miles Sanders handle the tailback duties, and before that, Sanders bided his time backing up superstar Saquon Barkley.

Penn State has had many, many outstanding running backs over the years, and coming off the Barkley and Sanders tenures, there’s a very high bar set for the next lead tailback.

Slade doesn’t seem at all fazed by the expectations, attention and pressure that come with taking over the job.

“In high school I was highly recruited, so I just kind of take that experience and use it for myself here,” he said. “I’m pretty prepared for it. I think I’ll do a good job with it.”

Slade, the projected starter with Journey Brown the backup, saw a good bit of action as a true freshman in 2018. He carried 45 times for 257 yards and six touchdowns, including a 61-yard burst up the middle for a score in the fourth quarter at Illinois.

Slade is only 5-foot-9, but at 198 pounds, he’s not some tiny running back. He’s fast, yet can also run over people when he has to.

Slade was asked to describe his strengths during Friday’s Lift for Life event.

“I showed flashes of my vision (last year),” he said. “I’d say my vision is probably my best strength I have. I think I got a little faster, too. Between my vision and my speed, that’s probably my two biggest improvements from last year to this year.”

He’s also made big strides in another key area that’s tough for young college running backs.

“Blocking is a huge part of it,” Slade said. “Last year I came in here a little guy, but I still stuck my nose in there picking up blocks. This year I got better with my technique, getting under the defense’s pad level, keeping my base strong. So I think that’s going to be a really good thing for me this year.

“Mentally I’ve improved a lot, just with picking up blitzes, reading the defenses,” he added. “I didn’t do that great a lot last year.”

Slade only caught one pass for 12 yards last year, but he says he and the running backs will be used a lot in the passing game this season.

When you enter football buildings at Penn State, you’ll see a sign that reads “You’re entering the most competitive environment in college football.”

Coach James Franklin wants his players to compete in everything they do, and the players love it.

“Of course we like it like that. We like being competitive,” Slade said.

The running back room is extremely competitive, so even though Slade is the projected starter, he knows he’ll have to produce in order to keep the job.

“Nothing’s changed; that room has always been competitive,” Slade said. “It’s always going to be competitive, even when I leave. We push each other to be the best, push each other to be the greatest.”

Just like he’s the next man up after Barkley and Sanders, Slade understands there’s great competition everywhere on the football team and that every job is up for grabs.

“I love this next man up,” he said. “For us, if you’re not starting, the backup, he’s just as good as the first man. It’s just that label. So, one man goes down, next man comes up. There’s no dropoff.”

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