Predicting 2019’s top Jayhawks: No. 7, RB Khalil Herbert
As the start of the college football season inches closer by the minute, here at KUsports.com and the Lawrence Journal-World we are counting down to kickoff by each day revealing a new KU player on Benton Smith’s list predicting the top 11 Jayhawks for the 2019 season.
Les Miles will lead the Kansas football team onto the field for the first time on Aug. 31 versus Indiana State.
Dating back to early in his sophomore season, when he put together back-to-back massive rushing games, Khalil Herbert’s potential at running back has tantalized Kansas football fans.
On the best days of his first three seasons, Herbert has registered:
• 137 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns at Ohio (2017)
• 291 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns versus West Virginia (2017)
• 91 rushing yards versus Iowa State (2018)
But for most of the previous three years, his carries on a game to game basis have been limited — especially for a player who enters his senior year averaging 4.9 yards per carry in 31 career games.
Herbert, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound rusher from Coral Springs, Fla., still won’t be KU’s featured back this year — that job will belong to Pooka Williams once the sophomore returns to the lineup in Week 2, after serving his one-game suspension as part of his punishment for a domestic battery charge.
Still, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Herbert becomes a fixture of KU’s offense as a primary backup. Last year, as a junior, he carried the ball 113 times for 499 yards and five touchdowns. But he could conceivably outperform all of those numbers this year if the offense relies as heavily on its running backs as it seems the Jayhawks will.
“I can’t imagine that Herbert won’t be a guy that vies for playing time,” head coach Les Miles said. “Being the solid guy that he is, he anticipates an agile cut well before many. And can bounce into a cut and out of a cut in a heartbeat.”
At times the past couple of years, Herbert seemed like a bit of an afterthought for KU’s offense for some reason, despite his flashes. It doesn’t look like that will be the case now that Miles is in charge, and has Les Koenning coordinating the offense.
“Today I saw him run in between a blocker and a defender — like in between them,” Miles told reporters earlier this week, following a KU preseason practice. “The blocker and defender were in contact. And he ran in between them. And I’m just saying, guys that have that kind of vision will play on Sundays. I think he’s going to be pretty special.”
Those words won’t soon be lost on Herbert, who has one year of college football left.
“It means the world that he believes in me, just being able to play at the next level. But I just take it as I have more work to do and keep working,” Herbert said. “It’s a childhood dream and it’s right there, so I just have to do my job. Do what I’m coached to do and I think it will be possible.”
Before his final season at KU is completed, Herbert, like many seniors before him, would like to help the program bust out of its losing rut. He said his goals for 2019 include: winning, going to a bowl game and leading the Big 12 in rushing.
Those are all lofty and may prove unattainable. But Herbert should be the best version of himself that KU has seen so far. And the senior running back said he has improved aspects of his game since the end of last year, too.
“I feel like my blocking and just running through tackles, running hard, breaking tackles,” Herbert said of ways in which he is more effective now. “That’s something I’ve really tried to work on and feel like I’ve done.”