POWDER SPRINGS, Ga. | Since the arrival of head coach Nick Saban, the University of Alabama has relied on big, powerful running backs to carry the load for the offense.
When the Crimson Tide won the national championship two years ago, sophomore running back Mark Ingram put together one of the best seasons in UA history, winning the Heisman Trophy.
This year, Trent Richardson is on a similar pace with the chance to win college football's most prestigious individual award and the goal of wining a national title still intact.
Every year, the Alabama coaching staff goes out on the recruiting trail and searches for the next great running back. Last year, UA signed Dee Hart, who was expected to contribute this season before a torn ACL injury sidelined the freshman back before the season opener.
On paper, Alabama's 2012 recruiting class is lacking a signature power running back who can dominate the game, but UA 6-foot-1, 195-pound commit Kenyan Drake believes he can fill those shoes.
"I definitely feel I can be that guy," Drake said. "I feel like I'm good enough to have the opportunity to play multiple positions, not only being the featured back.
"People saw me as strictly a wide receiver. I didn't feel disrespected by that, but I felt like my running skills are just as good as my receiving skills."
The Powder Springs, Ga., native is listed as an athlete on Rivals.com because of his ability to both run and catch the ball. But where does he fit at the next level?
Given his tall, lean frame, some argue that he looks to be too small to be a feature back in Alabama's system. Without the bulk of a Ingram or Richardson, people say he couldn't take the kind of beating week in and week out from SEC defenses.
"With me, I'm always going to be a little taller than your average running back, but I'm about 195 (pounds), and that was about the same weight that Mark Ingram was when he was coming into college. He was about 5-10, 190," Drake said. "Perception-wise, he might have been a little bigger than me because he's shorter, but you come into the program, you know your expectations and you know what they expect from you.
"To be an every-down back, you have to put on some mass. I feel like to exploit that opportunity, I know what I need to do is get in the weight room, take the supplements that I need to take, the vitamins, the shakes, work out hard in the weight room, and that will all come with time."
This season, Drake has put up as good of numbers as any running back in the state of Georgia, despite his lean stature.
Through the first five games, the Hillgrove High School star has rushed for 639 yards and eight touchdowns on just 61 carries. He's also caught three touchdowns and returned a kickoff 95 yards for a score.
Drake's head coach, Phil Ironside, believes he can be even better as the season progresses and tougher games come up on the schedule.
"The thing that he provides us is that he's a constant," Ironside said. "We've scored 40 every game, so he's not played a whole game yet. I don't think you've really seen what he did against Camden, what he did against Stephenson. He kind of took the games over last year in the playoffs. That's when he got on the radar map. He hasn't had to do that yet this year.
"When it comes time to get after it in a big game, I'm sure we're not going to use him as a decoy. You're going to give your best player the ball and let him try to win the game."
Friday may be one of those instances where Drake gets the bulk of the carries as Hillgrove faces rival McEachern High School in a game that features two undefeated schools from Class 4 AAAAA.
With a win over its rival, Hillgrove could become a frontrunners to win a state title, and Drake thinks this team has what it takes to do just that.
"We've definitely established some goals going into the season," Drake said. "Our main goal is to win a state championship, and I think we're well on our way to that, being 4-0. Everybody came together as a team because we wanted to establish ourselves as a perennial power in this region and in the state."
It may not be long before Drake is the featured back for an Alabama team also aiming for a championship.
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