Connecticut running back Arkeel Newsome doesn’t appear on any Heisman Trophy watch lists. He isn’t among the top 10 rushers nationally in college football. He’s not even a household name in the American Athletic Conference – yet.
None of that is realistic for a 5-foot-7 sophomore who entered this season with just 47 rushing attempts for 188 yards. But in the last three weeks, Newsome has proven that he is a threat to pick up yards in a variety of ways. And he is giving the Huskies hope for an offensive contribution that has been missing in recent seasons.
Newsome played a big role in UConn’s 40-13 domination of UCF last Saturday and as the Huskies prepare for their home encounter with USF, fans will be watching little No. 22 and hoping to see some new wrinkles in his game.
The AAC honored Newsome as special teams player of the week for his performance in Orlando. He finished with 106 yards on three kickoff returns on the way to 257 all-purpose yards. Perhaps his most electrifying moment came on the opening kickoff of the second half, which he took 71 yards to set up a UConn field goal.
Newsome’s day wrapped up with a game-high 84 rushing yards with two touchdowns and four receptions for a game-high 67 yards.
The way Newsome is going about his business might be more impressive than the numbers. He is shifty in the open field, with the ability to make yards when holes are closing. With a few added pounds this year, he has the skill to bust through the line of scrimmage and then pick up speed like a sleek, expensive sport car.
“He’s got excellent acceleration and contact speed,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said at his weekly press conference. “He accelerates at, just before, and through contact, which is kind of a rare trait. Not everyone will do that – in any position that they play.”
Diaco declared in August that Newsome “has to get the ball.” Even though fellow tailback Ron Johnson has had his share of bright moments, Newsome is viewed as the primary force in the backfield.
Newsome does rank 50th in the nation in all-purpose yards with an average of 120.5. That’s fourth best in the AAC, way behind Temple’s Jahad Thomas, who averages 182.4 at the top of the conference.
After getting just three touches against Missouri, Newsome has been the offensive feature the past three games. That’s good news for a sputtering offense that was coming up short in yards, time of possession, and points on the board.
In those three weeks, Newsome’s 181 receiving yards ranked fifth among FBS running backs and his 586 all-purpose yards in that span-ranked eighth. And the 586 are the most at UConn since Jordan Todman’s 724 against Cincinnati, Notre Dame and Syracuse in 2009.
“It’s all in practice and preparation,” Newsome told The Hartford Courant after the UCF game. “I’m doing everything I can to be the best I can be.”
Newsome started two games last year as a true freshman and was also UConn’s primary kickoff returner. He was a Parade Magazine All-American as a senior at Ansonia High School as the team went 43-0 in his final three seasons. He had 3,867 yards of rushing his senior year.
So Newsome knows numbers. Diaco calls him an “accelerator” and that may be the best description yet. Diaco also says that Newsome’s “trajectory is on the rise” and that is very good news for the UConn offense.
“Accelerators are the guys who really flash,” Diaco said. “He plays faster than he even is and he’s pretty fast. He’s strong. He might be a little bit on the shorter side but he’s not diminutive. He’s packed in there tight. Everything is on the rise for him.”