CEDAR FALLS — A position change this offseason from slot receiver to running back wasn’t a shock to Northern Iowa senior Aaron Graham.
Graham was a standout running back at Oak Grove High School in Missouri, where he piled up 8,991 all-purpose yards and 96 touchdowns. With a crowded backfield, UNI initially switched Graham to slot receiver to get his talent on the field after a redshirt season.
Four years later, he’s back at running back and enjoying getting reacquainted with the position.
“It’s trying to get those instincts back that I had when I was a senior in high school,” Graham said. “It was nice to come back to running back, and like, feel those instincts that I had back when I was a senior and kind of reminisce back there.”
Marcus Weymiller’s graduation and offseason surgery for Trevor Allen prompted UNI football coach Mark Farley to ask Graham to make the switch after he returned from spring break. But, Farley’s plan to move the senior back into the backfield wasn’t strictly based off his depth chart.
“I think Aaron actually has a huge upside at running back because his personality, his instinctive traits are really geared towards running back,” Farley said. “So he has shown up at (the) tailback position to be effective.”
Running backs coach Nick Danielson echoed Farley’s optimism on a recent episode of the On UNI Podcast, saying he was “ecstatic” to have him back in the running backs room.
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“He’s a very, very bright kid,” Danielson said. “And he’s picked things up very quickly. So he’s getting back into the rhythm of exactly how to play the position, what it’s like to pass protect again and things like that, but he’s been a very pleasant surprise.
“I think people are going to be excited to see that kid on the field this fall.”
While Allen is expected to be medically cleared in time for fall camp and Tyler Hoosman, Alphonso Soko and Sam Schnee remain in the mix for carries, Danielson said they don’t want to lean on one running back and want enough options to play the hot hand within a game.
Perhaps the only thing standing in the way of a productive return to running back for Graham is a considerable history of injuries. Two years ago, he hyper-extended his knee and fractured his tibia, ending his season early. Last season he pulled his hamstring before the season-opener and didn’t return until the Panthers’ final three games.
His 2017 injury was out of his control, but Graham said his multiple hamstring and soft-tissue injuries he’s dealt with throughout his career are hopefully behind him as a result of his maturation.
“That was kind of just my fault, not really preparing myself,” Graham said. “But ever since I started growing and maturing I’ve always been in the training room probably an hour, hour-and-a-half before (practice) doing all my stretches, getting my hamstrings worked out. When I was younger I kind of just rolled out of bed and came to practice five minutes before, so that didn’t work out.”
Northern Iowa will wrap up spring practices with a two-hour open practice next Saturday at 1 p.m.