With the season more than halfway done, it's clear that Penn football has had to make some major adjustments from last season, particularly concerning the team's running back room. Following the departure of the program's leading rusher last year Trey Flowers, who was a first-team All-Ivy selection in 2022, there was a gap in production that needed to be filled by the Quakers' (5-2, 2-2 Ivy) backs, and changes in scheme that would have to be considered.
“[Trey] was a football guy,” running backs coach David Sims said. “He naturally did things on the football field. He’s naturally instinctive.”
With that being said, there is a stark shift when it comes to this team’s group of backs. First and foremost, it starts with what Sims and the rest of the coaching staff are asking of their players.
“We ask our guys to be multiple," Sims said. "We’re asking them to pick up defensive linemen, to run receiver routes. We ask a lot of those guys and we put a lot on their plate, but I think the group as a whole has been pretty good. We come to work every single day and those guys have done a good job.”
Sims also loves the big play ability of this group of backs, and credits that as one of the big changes from the Flowers-led group to the current room.
“I think one of the biggest changes is you feel a little bit quicker on the perimeter, and so you feel like some of those runs can go 60 or 70 yards, whereas with Trey, [he would] go 40 or 50,” he said.
On top of that, Sims feels that this group has been able to recreate one of Flowers’ biggest strengths: breaking tackles. One of the challenges for Sims, however, is the amount of depth at the running back position, and finding roles for everyone.
For fifth-year senior running back Jonathan Mulatu and freshman running back Malachi Hosley, the different uses and opportunities mean a lot to them. They feel as if it gets them involved in all areas of the game, something that is unique to Penn, and Sims praises their — and the rest of the group's — flexibility.
“We’re not just downhill backs,” Mulatu said. “I think [the coaching staff] does a good job of utilizing our backs in space in the pass game. I don’t think any other Ivy really does that.”
“We catch, we run, we block, we’re all on special teams,” Hosley added. “I feel like no other Ivy has their backs do as much as we do.”
On top of these added roles in games, Mulatu has had to take on the role of mentor, becoming a leader in the locker room as one of the more experienced players on the team. He finds himself being more vocal and makes it a goal to lead by example.
Hosley credits Mulatu with aiding in the transition to college football, helping to make things easier for him along the way.
“I was in communication with [Mulatu] before I even got here, so that just made me feel more comfortable," Hosley said. "Mulatu took me under his wing, and I’ve seen him as my mentor. So it was easier knowing that there was an older guy in the running back room that knew the offense, and he helped me get accustomed to it.”
Both Hosley and Mulatu have performed well this season, with Hosley rushing for 234 yards, catching 194 through the air, and hauling in four total touchdowns. Mulatu, meanwhile, has rushed for 166 yards and a touchdown, and brought in 112 yards through the air on 18 receptions.
The Quakers will take on Cornell this Saturday at Franklin Field for this year’s Homecoming Game.