That grin of his widens as he says, “I ain’t played in a minute.”
No, unfortunately for Armand Shyne, it’s been a series of bad breaks since he burst onto the scene in 2016, a one-time backup who made a name for himself when called upon. So it makes sense that he can’t stop smiling because he’s back in pads, with his helmet on, waiting to bowl over a defender. Or get bowled over himself.
It doesn’t matter.
Shyne missed the contact. A running back craves it, he said, no matter how painful it might look on TV or how loudly the audible pop can echo throughout a crowded stadium. Injuries have been unkind to the redshirt junior running back from Oakland, Calif.
First it was the torn ACL in 2016, suffered in the same game that remains his best to date. Shyne had 101 yards, a touchdown and counting against Arizona, but instead of celebrating the eventual win, he limped off the turf inside Rice-Eccles Stadium, his season suddenly over.
He got back into shape. He was determined to win back his starting spot last fall under then-first-year offensive coordinator Troy Taylor. And he was in the running until he suffered a fractured forearm that took longer than expected to heal.
“Having to watch from the sideline,” said Shyne, who only could cheer in street clothes and a pink arm cast in 2017, “it was rough.”
It’s a view he’s had before and one he doesn’t want to have again. Shyne, who came into camp in the best shape of his career at 5 foot 11 and 210 pounds, is starting over in a sense. He dropped No. 23 and snatched the No. 6, the number he wore during his days at Skyline High School in Oakland. It’s still early, but Utah running backs coach Kiel McDonald isn’t tempering expectations for the redshirt junior back.
“Reps, reps, reps, reps, reps,” he said about Shyne’s needs this spring camp. “It’s not that difficult. It’s not rocket science. The kid is very, very talented, and he’s going to help us come fall.”
When Shyne went down, in stepped Zack Moss, who went on to rush for 1,173 yards and 10 touchdowns, carrying the Utes down the stretch en route to an eventual bowl victory and 7-6 season. Moss is the clear incumbent, leaving Shyne with work to do this spring to not only get back to his peak form of two years ago, but also to push for minutes, and as McDonald explained, more crucial reps.
Taylor said Utah will need three reliable full-time running backs in fall to be able to accomplish what it wants to offensively. That starts with Moss, then factor in Shyne and junior Devonta’e Henry-Cole.
“We were sometimes thin last year,” Taylor said. “Shyne’s moving, coming back in and becoming more comfortable. I mean, he’s been out a year and a half, I guess, but we think he’s coming along well.”
Shyne said Taylor’s offense will allow him, when he’s fully healthy, to showcase his versatility as a running back, not just as a guy who hits the gaps. He said he’s enjoying lining up out wide in some sets, proving he can be a consistent threat in the passing game, if needed, too. It will take time to get back to competing for the starting job, but it’s a goal he said he must embrace, to work toward something attainable.
“I’m pretty eager to get it,” he said, “but I don’t want to rush myself and start messing up again. Just want to get back into a groove, and when I feel it again, just take off.”
Quarterback Tyler Huntley said it’s “just a crazy sight” to be lining up behind center and having Moss and Shyne flank him in the backfield at times.
“It’s just good to have both of them backs back there with me,” Huntley said.
And like Shyne, McDonald is eager to see his running back get some hits in.
“I have no doubt who he’s going to be when the pads go on in live situations because you got a chance to see it in past years with him,” he said. “He’s a really good contact runner. I think he’s going to be special come the fall.”