SEATTLE – Have you ever seen a bull when the gate first opens?
It’s a natural disaster dancing on the dirt. It’s swivels and kicks and chaos. It’s the rodeo equivalent of a volcanic eruption – a fire hose spraying every which way. It’s what happens when a one-ton tornado feels trapped.
And sooner or later, the bull rider’s bucked off.
On Aug. 31, 2019, a Washington redshirt freshman running back named Richard Newton roared through the gate. After sitting out the entire 2018 season because of shoulder surgery, he made his first career appearance against the Eastern Washington Eagles. On fourth-and-2 on the season’s opening drive, he took a wildcat snap and high-stepped through ankle tackles, gashing up the gut for a 23-yard touchdown.
His first career carry was his first career score.
“I don’t remember what I was going through (internally),” Newton said on Thursday. “I was pretty nervous, though. I had butterflies. I didn’t believe that I’d score, and when I did, it didn’t feel real. It felt just like a movie, kind of. I had never touched the end zone before, but it was cool. It was crazy.”
In his first full season in Seattle, the craziness only continued. The 6-foot, 210-pound Newton led the Huskies with 10 rushing touchdowns, while adding 514 total yards and 4.3 yards per carry. He became UW’s resident battering ram, specializing in red-zone and short-yardage situations.
But that running style – a cocktail of stiff arms and high-speed collisions – comes with inevitable side effects.
The Palmdale (California) High School product missed three games last season with a left foot injury, and was forced to sit out his freshman season after the shoulder surgery. He was also limited in a pair of high school campaigns.
On Thursday, when asked if his game might mirror Seahawks running back Chris Carson, Newton said: “That comparison’s pretty nice. I like Chris Carson.”
And, like Carson, Newton’s ferocity is awfully effective.
But is it sustainable? Can he stay on the field?
“I think you just keep recruiting good running backs that can back him up if he does go down,” said UW running backs coach Keith Bhonapha, when asked if they’d consider altering Newton’s approach. “That’s really the answer. The one thing you don’t want to do is shave the horns on a bull. Just let him go. I think the one thing that I try to focus on, I think about (getting to the) sideline and things like that when you’re not taking unnecessary shots that you don’t need to.
“But if you think about last season, he was in on the goal line. He was in on short yardage. And trust me, if I had him tiptoeing in those situations you guys would try to get me out of here, and the fans would be yelling, too.
“So I think with that being said, he just needs to continue to run, run, run, and stay in the weight room and stay as healthy as possible. But I’m not trying to hold him back at all.”
In reality, you can’t ask a bull to be anything else.
And, really, why would you want to?
“I don’t really worry about (injuries) too much, because at the end of the day, it’s football,” Newton said. “I just try to go out and go as hard as I can and play.”
His specific style of play should fit effortlessly into first-year offensive coordinator John Donovan’s pro-style scheme. On Thursday, Newton said coach Jimmy Lake “wants more power (in his offense). So I think more weight on us helps a lot, because we want to run and pound the ball. But we also have the speed backs to complement us.
“I think it goes hand-in-hand. But I think power is a big part of our offense.”
In 2020, the Huskies should have the horsepower. Besides Newton, seniors Sean McGrew (5-7, 175) and Kamari Pleasant (6-0, 230) and redshirt freshman Cameron Davis (6-0, 205) will all aim to earn reps. They’ll run behind perhaps the Pac-12’s most physically formidable offensive line – featuring Jaxson Kirkland (6-7, 295), Ulumoo Ale (6-6, 355) and Henry Bainivalu (6-6, 335).
Of course, size isn’t everything – but it sure doesn’t hurt.(Unless you’re hanging off the back of the bull. Then you just might beg to differ.)
“We do continue to think we can get bigger,” Bhonapha said. “We can get guys that are agile at a bigger size when it comes to pass protection, when it comes to moving the chains in short yardage, when it comes to moving the ball on the goal line. Now obviously, we’re going to take the best player available and that’s what we’re always looking for, a guy that fits what we want to do. But I will say this: We are looking big. It’s a good feeling understanding the talent we have at that size.”
Of course, Newton’s talent still needs some extra seasoning. The Lancaster, California, native has appeared in just 10 career games. But it isn’t unrealistic to expect him to carry the load, either.
“Just him getting more comfortable with the package when it comes to protection and exactly what he needed to do was kind of where his development stage was last season,” Bhonapha said. “I think the big thing where he has kind of turned the corner is just his intensity.
“And when we talk about this team we talk about focus and building day after day and the consistency you can build there.
“That’s really where Rich is at. He’s just trying to show up and be consistent day after day. And really for me, my thing is always going to be, can these guys block? Can these guys understand protection? We know Rich can run the ball. We’re just now trying to build on him being an overall running back at the University of Washington.”
Primarily, that applies to pass protection. But Newton may be ready to contribute in other areas as well.
He said UW’s running backs have worked all offseason on “just being more of a weapon in the pass game and getting the ball out of the backfield.”
Together, they’ve waited 10 long months to unleash on an opponent.
Just wait until Washington opens up the gate.
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