Journey Brown, Noah Cain Ready To Lead Penn State Football’s Running Backs
When Noah Cain arrived in Happy Valley before the 2019 season, he didn’t think he’d get along too well with fellow running back Journey Brown. Fast forward to 2020 and the pair are now set to lead one of the top rushing groups in all of college football.
“[Noah] actually did tell me he didn’t like me at first,” Brown said. “I’m a goofy dude. I like to play around with people, I’m just a happy person. For him to come in all serious and stuff…I would pull on his jersey or grab his mouthpiece and throw it on the ground.
“If you always stay tight, you can’t do anything,” Brown said to Cain. “You gotta let it go a little bit.”
The redshirt junior explained that it didn’t take long for him to grow on the then-freshman Cain. Once that was settled, the game came fairly easy for the #LawnBoyz.
Brown finished his season on a tear with a total of 890 rushing yards and 12 scores, including a massive performance in Penn State’s Cotton Bowl Classic victory. Cain ended with a strong freshman campaign himself, as he managed 443 yards on the ground and eight scores — the most touchdowns by a freshman in school history.
While each rusher had an impressive season in their own right, both had critiques of themselves Thursday.
“To be honest with you, I was kind of disappointed with my bowl game performance when we went back and watched the film,” Cain said. “There was a few runs where I was like, ‘Man, I could’ve made a bigger play on that.'”
Keep in mind Cain put up 92 rushing yards and two scores in the Cotton Bowl. While that may not stack up against Brown’s 202-yard performance, it’s hardly a bad day for a freshman running back.
Since that bowl victory 10 months ago, though, Cain has grown in several areas in and around the game.
“I feel like my IQ has come a long way from last year to this year,” Cain said. “My body has changed a lot. I’ve changed the way I’ve eaten. I’m from Louisiana, so all I know is big seafood, heavy foods, all that. But I’ve changed [my diet] just so I can be fresh on the field and help sustain myself through the whole season.
“I feel leaner, quicker, faster. I’m just excited to show that against Indiana on October 24,” Cain added.
Cain, who said he likes to model his game after a mix of Ezekiel Elliot, Nick Chubb, and Josh Jacobs, doesn’t lack confidence in his rushing ability. With last year’s performance under his belt and even more speed, it’s hard to argue with the sophomore rusher.
Outside of an impressive run game, though, Penn State’s high expectations also come in the form of new offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca. The former Minnesota coach expects his running backs to also be valuable members of the passing game, something that Brown and Cain are both well aware of.
“I probably have caught so many jugs my hands are gonna start hurting,” Brown said. “I’ve been working on my hands, getting with Pat Freiermuth and Jahan [Dotson], learning how to do routes different and break defenders down.”
Brown managed 15 catches worth 134 yards and a score last season, but he plans on polishing his skills in an area that will be key to this new offense. With high expectations for himself and the group, Brown wants to lead by example.
“I want to work on stuff that I can improve on, but also strengthen and polish my game in areas that I know I’m good at. I want to make sure I can be the best balanced back,” Brown said.
While there’s plenty of confidence in Brown, Cain, and even Devyn Ford, who had 297 rushing yards as a freshman in 2019, there’s even more depth in the position group.
Four-star Florida running backs Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes are both set to start with the Nittany Lions this fall. With impressive high school careers behind them, they’ll have equally high expectations down the road. Cain was in that same position just a year ago, and had some advice for the pair that will anchor the group in 2020.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself like I did,” Cain said. “Coming in, I had so many things I wanted to shoot for, I didn’t really have an everyday approach of trying to get better. My main message to them is take it one day at time, just focus on what you have to do and do your job at the highest level possible.”
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