TCU running back B.J. Catalon had a conversation with himself.
Along with fellow freshman Trevone Boykin, he had just been thrust into a starring role for the TCU offense against Iowa State last October.
Horned Frogs fans will recall it turned out to be one of the more agonizing losses in 2012. Five TCU turnovers gift-wrapped the win for the Cyclones.
Catalon fumbled on consecutive possessions in the second quarter, the first coming after an electric 18-yard run to the Iowa State 3. The second came after a 5-yard gain on a pass from Boykin inside the Cyclones’ 40. Boykin, for his part, threw three interceptions, including one on his first attempt of the game, one that was returned for a touchdown and another on fourth-and-goal at the ISU 3 that iced the game for the Cyclones.
“After that game I kind of got it together and was like, ‘All right, this is the big leagues; you’ve got to hold it tighter,’” Catalon said. “The team didn’t talk down about me. They were very supportive and encouraging about just getting better. That game transferred into future games like Baylor.”
Indeed, as a true freshman out of Houston Westside, Catalon rebounded from the lesson learned against Iowa State and didn’t fumble again the rest of the season. He helped Boykin lead the Frogs to an impressive 49-21 win the next week in Waco. TCU rushed for 248 yards, a season-high against Big 12 opponents, which included a team-high 79 from Catalon.
He led the Frogs in rushing for five consecutive games with Waymon James out for the season and Matthew Tucker nursing a nagging injury. Catalon finished the season with 582 yards to become TCU’s first true freshman rushing leader since Lonta Hobbs in 2002.
It wasn’t supposed to be Catalon’s time to shine. But when James went down with a season-ending injury in the second game followed by Tucker’s injury that forced the senior to miss the Iowa State game and play sparingly over several weeks, Catalon immersed himself in the role.
“I was a bit nervous,” he said. “It was a little overwhelming being 17, 18 years old out there. But I knew once [James] got hurt, of course, I had to step up. Things happen; it’s football. I just figured I needed to be in the film room, in the weight room and on this football field practicing each and every day trying to get better.”
He leaned on his coaches and teammates, especially his fellow running backs, who helped show him the ropes during his first dizzying run through spring camp two months removed from high school.
“They kept me encouraged and kept me going,” he said. “Although Waymon was hurt, we met together and he’s like a great mentor to me. He taught me the things I needed to do to be successful out there for my freshman year.”
A year later, Catalon is bigger and faster after two off-seasons working with TCU strength and conditioning coach Don Sommer. He benched 350 pounds out of high school. Now he’s close to lifting 450. He shared most of the reps with Aaron Green this spring with James and Jordan Moore recovering from injuries.
“I’m just trying to get bigger because there’s a lot of big guys out here,” he said. “So I can take those hits and be able to handle things like that.”
Coach Gary Patterson noticed the change during spring practice, often praising Catalon for his progress.
“He was just a true freshman last year,” Patterson said. “Now he’s not scared of what’s going on. He understands where it’s at. He’s one of our leaders.”
During a scrimmage this spring, Catalon took a pitch on the left side, burst through a hole, made one defender miss, and raced 60 yards untouched for a score. Patterson credited Catalon for making the play on his own. Like a good running back learns to do, Catalon praised his offensive line.
“Actually, the line set up a good block, and I just hit the hole and cut it upfield,” he said. “I’m more comfortable now, so I can do the things I’m used to doing using my quickness and my speed to help the team. We’ve got a lot of great running backs, and everyone has their own aspects they bring to the table. I feel like I need to be a major part of this team.”