Maybe you’ve heard of Akrum Wadley, but unless you’re from the state of Iowa or a huge fan of the Big Ten, probably not.
Wadley is a 5-foot-11, 191 pound redshirt junior from Newark, N.J. He joined the Iowa Hawkeyes as part of the 2013 class as a recruit with very little fanfare. He was ranked as a two-star running back, No. 156 at his position, according to the industry generated 247Sports Composite. The only other program that had offered Wadley was Temple, but the chose the Hawkeyes after a brief stint committed to be an Owl.
The rest, as they say, is history. In typical Iowa fashion, the Hawkeyes have taken the lowly recruited back and have turned him into a game-changer.
It’s taken time, and there have been ups and downs, but Wadley enters the 2016 season as one of college football’s most dangerous No. 2 backs.
Heading into Iowa’s season opener against Miami of Ohio, Wadley will likely be Iowa’s backup in the backfield, only behind 6-foot, 225 pound senior LeShun Daniels Jr., who rushed for 646 yards and eight touchdowns last season behind a rejuvenated and healthy Jordan Canzeri (984 yards and 12 touchdowns).
Canzeri is graduated and the big but smooth Daniels is expected to take his spot as the starter. He’s a tough back who can pick up tough yards in Iowa’s hard-nosed offensive scheme, but Daniels has flashed some speed and foot-quickness in the past, especially when he’s been 100-percent healthy.
The thing is, though, Iowa won’t need Daniels to be anything other than what he is, and at his best he’s a downhill runner.
The flashy “shake-and-bake” stuff is more in Wadley’s wheelhouse, and he’s shown of plenty of explosive playmaking ability in the past as proof. He’s rushed 116 times for 682 yards and eight touchdowns in his Iowa career, seven of those touchdowns coming last season.
In 2015, he averaged an extremely efficient 5.98 yards per carry, highlighted by a four touchdown, 204 yard performance on the road at then No. 23 ranked Northwestern. That touchdown performance tied a single-game school record — not a bad accomplishment for a former two-star running back.
Wadley is a shifty back who can make defenders miss, but he also has good open field speed and can hit the hole (or corner) hard. Fumbles have been a problem in the past and that’s led to some inconsistent playing time, but when he’s on — there aren’t many running backs in the Big Ten who can change a game like he can.
The Hawkeyes have used Wadley as a starter a few times — to be exact, he has three starts under his belt — but he projects to make the most impact for Iowa as a change-of-pace back.
It’s an old cliché, but he’s the lightning to Daniels’ thunder.
We’ve seen Iowa be very successful with this approach in the past — grinding out with a big bruiser and then utilizing a smaller, shiftier back to keep defenses on their heels (especially on third downs) — and if both players remain healthy and out of the doghouse, there’s no reason it can’t work again for Kirk Ferentz’s squad.
So yeah, he may not be a starter and he may not be a superstar, but in Wadley you’re getting a player who knows his role and plays it well.
In football parlance and at his best, he’s a change-of-pace back … and a darn good one at that.