Enrolling at Tennessee in January of 2015 as a redshirt sophomore without a down of major college experience probably wasn’t anywhere in Alvin Kamara’s plans as he came out of Norcross, Ga., as a top-50 national prospect heading to powerhouse Alabama in 2013.
More likely he saw himself becoming one of the next great backs for the Tide, probably envisioning himself leading a national title run and thinking about the NFL before too long.
But that’s not how it’s worked out for the 5-11, 200-pound back who joined the Vols as one of the top-ranked junior college recruits in the nation a couple week ago. Two suspensions for “behavioral reasons” set him back and contributed to his time with the Tide being cut short as Alabama and Kamara parted ways. He detoured through Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College and now returns to the big stage of the SEC with a chance to make up for some lost time.
“Definitely,” Kamara said when asked in his first media session in Knoxville if he’s coming with somewhat of a chip on his shoulder. “Seeing guys that came out of my same class, guys like (Alabama RB) Derrick Henry, (Ohio State RB) Ezekiel Elliott, (in the national championship), guys I came out with – they’re just balling, tearing it up, and I’m like I’m kind of behind, I’m playing catch up, so I’m just ready to get on the field and show what I can do…
“It’s definitely a breath of fresh air. It feels good to be able to start over with having that experience with going to ‘Bama first, just knowing how to kind of play the game and just do what I have to do to be successful.”
Tennessee gives Kamara the perfect stage to come in and get back to the level he originally envisioned coming out of high school. At first glance, the Vols’ backfield is well taken care of with returning sophomore Jalen Hurd occupying the starting spot. But college football is, at minimum, a two-back game now, and with zero other scholarship running backs returning for the Vols in 2015, Kamara is set to carry the load with Hurd.
“It’s a huge opportunity,” Kamara said. “Jalen (Hurd) did a lot of great things last year and I’m looking forward to learning from him because he did it before me. Getting in the film room and working with him and Coach (Gillespie), just getting to learn the offense and get on the field in spring and learn. It’ll be great to see what we team up and do.”
Hurd and Kamara have the potential to team up as one of the better duos in the league if all goes as planned. Neither should be pegged as a specific type of runner. Hurd, while being the significantly larger back at 6-3, 230 pounds, can run for both speed and power. Kamara, though often labeled as simply a speed guy, can also do a little bit of everything on the field.
But each playing to their different strengths will give opposing defenses more to worry about and to prepare for.
“Yeah, I think we’ll compliment each other pretty well,” Kamara said. “Jalen is a bigger back, powerful, big feet for a big guy, good speed. And me, I can run between the tackles, but just that outside speed, you know, catching ability, stuff like that. It’ll be a good one-two punch…
“I think it’s very important (to have two backs). The SEC is the conference with people taking a lot of loads, taking a lot of hits, so having two, three fresh backs to rotate in and out definitely saves some of the pounding.”
“Alvin is an extremely competitive kid. He has an explosive element to his game that will allow him to help us immediately,” Gillespie said when Kamara enrolled. “I’m excited to coach him this Spring and believe that his addition will create a healthy competition in the running backs room.”
Though this is new start for Kamara, he also has plenty of support and confidence as he makes his return to the SEC. He’s spent a year in an SEC program before. He’s learned from his mistakes and he knows he has old high school friends such as Ryan Jenkins and Jasom Croom on the roster to help as well.
“Just being a year removed, and stepping back and just seeing football for what it really is, I feel like I deserve to have an immediate impact and I feel like, you know, even if you deserve, you still have to work, so I’m definitely going to work to have an impact on this team,” he said.