Anthony Adkins evolves as a running back in his first season with UCLA football
Redshirt junior running back Anthony Adkins is swarmed by three San Diego State defenders during No. 22 UCLA football’s second game of the season. (Joseph Jimenez/Photo editor)
Sept. 19, 2023 4:08 p.m.
This post was updated Sept. 21 at 9:40 p.m.
Editor’s note: This article mentions football players’ weight strategies and dietary habits.
Anthony Adkins was a virtual unknown when he transferred to UCLA from Army.
“I’m not sure we knew how athletic he was when we got him,” said coach Chip Kelly after the game against North Carolina Central.
But the redshirt junior running back displayed the athleticism that surprised Kelly in No. 22 UCLA football’s nonconference finale.
Frequently shedding tackles and extending runs, Adkins had his best performance as a Bruin on Saturday. He followed up on his five-rush, 26-yard performance at Snapdragon Stadium with a 96-yard day to lead all running backs. Finishing just shy of triple-digit yardage, Adkins’ rushing totals were more than he tallied in any game with Army in 2021 – the last season he played in before coming to Westwood.
Adkins said he has become a different kind of back since joining the Bruins.
“I lost a little bit of weight because I was a heavier guy over there because I was playing fullback, lead blocking every play,” Adkins said.
Adkins added that since his departure from Army, he’s improved his ability to move laterally.
Before entering the transfer portal in April 2022 – and not seeing any kind of game action in the 2022 season – Adkins recorded 693 yards and 10 touchdowns across his three seasons with the Black Knights.
At the end of the postgame press conference Saturday, freshman quarterback Dante Moore, who sat alongside the 245-pound running back at the podium, complimented Adkins’ development since the start of his UCLA tenure.
“I remember sometimes I’d come offer him candy at the locker room,” Moore said. “He would just say, ‘Nah, I’m watching my weight.’ So, one thing Ant (Adkins) does is take care of his body and really improves on the football field.”
Adkins has shown early on that his size allows him to find extra yardage and make up for the speed advantage that junior Carson Steele and sophomore T.J. Harden hold as smaller backs.
On his first carry Saturday, Adkins all but dragged two Eagles’ defenders with him past the first down marker for extra yards. He did it twice more in the third quarter, shedding tacklers and carrying defenders en route to 32- and 38-yard rushes – his longest carries of the day.
To cap off the drive that featured the 38-yard carry, Kelly called an Army-esque play at the goal line – a one-yard rush up the middle to give Adkins his first touchdown.
“He played in a different style of offense at Army, being the fullback in the wishbone, and just pounding it between the A gaps,” Kelly said. “But he’s got a little bit of side-to-side in him, and I think he is tough to tackle. He runs with good body lean.”
The three service schools – Army, Navy and Air Force – often lead the country in run plays year in and year out, with upward of 80% of their plays coming on the ground. Adkins said he had to adjust to an offensive style that goes beyond triple options from the wishbone set.
“I played kind of a natural fullback at Army. There wasn’t much zone reads and stuff like that like we do here,” Adkins said. “So that was one thing I really had to work on when I got here.”
Kelly added that Adkins is improving on a weekly basis and is pushing himself into the fold with Steele and Harden, especially with Pac-12 play beginning.
On the depth chart, Adkins wasn’t listed alongside Steele and Harden; redshirt senior Colson Yankoff claimed the third spot.
However, with three games in the rearview mirror, Adkins is one of three UCLA running backs to eclipse the 100-yard rushing yard mark, trailing only Steele and Harden, who have 243 and 233 yards, respectively.
Regardless of how Kelly opts to incorporate Adkins moving forward, the power back is quickly becoming an early option out of the backfield.