Jalen Rhodes has been on both sides of the spectrum throughout his football career.
After his junior year of high school, he was listed on the coveted Dave Campbell Texas Top 300 and was a verbal commit to play Power 5 football for Tommy Tuberville as a Texas Tech Red Raider. The three-star recruit was the first running back to commit to Tech’s 2013 class.
During the summer of 2012, Rhodes was gearing up for his senior season at Rowlett High School when he clocked a 4.44-second 40-yard-dash time at a Texas Tech satellite camp. He had an offer from Tuberville within 48 hours and committed two weeks later.
Over the next few months cataclysmic events would greatly alter Rhodes’ plans, and by year’s end, everything had changed.
During the early part of his senior campaign, Rhodes suffered an ACL tear in his right knee, ending his high school career. A few months later, Tuberville abruptly resigned from the Tech program to become the head coach at Cincinatti, and left a long list of recruits - Rhodes included - scratching their heads at what just happened.
In came current Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, and not even six months after accepting the initial offer, Rhodes had his scholarship pulled. It’s an unfortunate consequence that most staff overhauls entail, and often leaves recruits feeling like Dr. John: in the right place but at the wrong time.
Alongside Rhodes’ initial offer from Tech were those from UTSA, North Texas, Colorado State, New Mexico and New Mexico State. At the beginning of 2013, only one offer still stood, and that was Larry Coker’s at UTSA. The only stipulation was that Rhodes had to greyshirt his first year and enroll in 2014.
Interestingly enough, UTSA was the runner-up for Rhodes’ initial commitment.
After a year and half of rehab and weight lifting, Rhodes’ only desire was to be back in the backfield. That time had finally arrived. In his first practice with the Roadrunners, Rhodes lined up for his first snap, ready to work. Then, the unthinkable:
In what he would later describe as a “freak accident”, Rhodes’ blew out his Achilles on that very first snap, tearing several ligaments in his left foot in a non-contact injury. It seemed as if his football career was never meant to extend beyond that remarkable junior season he had at Rowlett, as if injury was his only destiny on the gridiron. It seemed as if Rhodes was done.
However, unphased by his second surgery in two years, Rhodes went right back into rehab. He had been there before, and wasn’t at all intimidated by the process. He knew what it entailed and had the necessary drive to get himself back on the field yet again.
Behind his immense work ethic and faith, Rhodes was finally inserted into the lineup in 2015 behind his roommate and starting running back Jarveon Williams. His first game minutes in three years came against the Arizona Wildcats in the season opener. As UTSA was attempting to make a late comeback in the fourth quarter, Rhodes broke out of the backfield and scampered 16 yards to the endzone. He was back in the saddle, and it was as if he hadn’t lost a step.
The backfield duo showed potential as a 1-2 punch through the beginning of the season, but Williams was striding into UTSA’s record books as the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher, leaving Rhodes on the sideline more often than he preferred. Williams’ record-setting season was the sole silver lining through the 2015 year that was otherwise pitiful. As the Roadrunners fell to a program-low 3-9, head coach Larry Coker was removed from the program.
In came Frank Wilson, a man with a very high running back pedigree, and with him the ground game duet was in full effect.
When UTSA routed then-division-favorite Southern Miss in the fifth game of the season it was noticeably evident that Rhodes was more than able to replace Williams’ impact in the UTSA rushing game. Rhodes gained 165 yards on 14 attempts and racked up three touchdowns in a show for the ages, including a solo on the main stage in the form of an 80-yard touchdown sprint down the sideline in the second quarter.
His ability to explode and cut is unmatched by any previous UTSA back, and this season Rhodes could very well break a few records himself.
He will be a critical in determining the Roadrunners’ 2017 success, and getting the bulk of carries behind a much-improved offensive line puts the limit as high as the sky. Wilson also does a great job of utilizing him out of the backfield on short screens and dump-downs. He’ll get a great volume of touches as one of UTSA’s premier playmakers.
After falling to the bottom twice, Rhodes finds himself back on top of the mountain. C-USA better watch out when he comes barreling down it with the pigskin tucked under his shoulder.