TCU’s four running backs are close, but Kyle Hicks and Shaun Nixon have an extra kinship.
They’ve both overcome ACL injuries to continue their careers.
Hicks missed part of his senior season at Arlington Martin because of the knee injury, redshirted in 2013 at TCU and played last season.
Nixon hurt his knee in August practices at TCU last year and redshirted. He made his college debut last week with five catches and two carries at Minnesota.
“I was very proud of him,” Hicks said. “How he handled his first game, and on the road, in a hostile environment, I was really proud of that. I can’t wait to see what he does the rest of the season.”
Hicks, speaking to reporters Tuesday, remembered the scene when Nixon hurt his knee.
“It was sad,” he said. “You never want to see one of your teammates go down. We’re all his family. We were here with him. We just kept him uplifted. We were here to make sure he never got too down, and if he was down, we were there to pick him back up.”
The Horned Frogs have already shown they want to use all four backs. Aaron Green matched a career high with 19 carries at Minnesota, but Nixon had his seven touches, and Travorris Johnson had three carries.
Hicks didn’t get a carry or a catch, but did get a target. Last year, he caught 12 passes and averaged 9.8 yards a catch.
“We all think we have good hands,” he said with a laugh.
TCU senior Josh Doctson said reserve receivers like Emmanuel Porter, Ja’Juan Story and Desmon White can easily be thought of as starters.
“It’s amazing what they do,” he said. “I feel like all our 2s can be our 1s. That’s a great feeling, to know there’s no weight on anybody’s shoulders.”
White had five catches, and Story and Porter two each. But it should be no surprise they are getting their looks from quarterback Trevone Boykin.
White has been practicing in the slot in place of Deante’ Gray since spring, when Gray hurt his knee. Story got the benefit of extra reps in spring training when Doctson broke his hand. Porter practiced for Listenbee, who was also running track in the spring.
“We really have a unified group,” Doctson said. “Everybody’s ready to play and knows their assignment.”
TCU coach Gary Patterson raised eyebrows when he opted for a 53-yard field goal attempt on the first drive at Minnesota.
“Why? We had the wind,” he said.
Jaden Oberkrom made the kick, matching the fourth-longest kick in school history. He went 3-for-4 on field goals in the game, also hitting from 45 and 33 and missing from 29.
But he has made three of the five longest field goals ever for TCU, including a 57-yarder in 2012.
“If there’s one thing about Jaden, he kicks a lot better when he has to focus,” Patterson said. “When he misses things, it’s when he thinks it’s easy. He kicked a 57-yarder in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to almost win the ballgame for us.”
Patterson said he doesn’t usually have one-on-one talks with players before games, but he made sure to last week with sophomore long snapper Matt Boggs and freshman punt returner Kavontae Turpin, each seeing the first action of their careers.
“Both of them were very critical,” Patterson said. “Just the pressure of somebody that’s never been in that kind of game before — and to snap it perfectly and snap it fast, where they don’t have a chance to block it; and then to put Turpin back, a freshman with people in his face all night long, and to fair-catch and make decisions.”
Turpin had three returns for 13 yards, handling each catch cleanly.
“He screwed up a couple of things, but did good enough that he’ll probably be our No. 1 kickoff returner going into this game, also,” Patterson said.
Patterson listed several players he expects to see get their first game action, including cornerback DeShawn Raymond, who was not on the depth chart last week.
“Jaelan Austin, I think you’ll see play,” he said. “You’ll see DeShawn Raymond play. You’ll see Arico Evans play. You’ll see Julius Lewis play. Braylon Mitchell’s going to play on the defensive line. Tipa Galeai’s going to play. L.J. Collier will play. We’ve been pushing these guys all the way through two-a-days.”
Except for Collier, those players are all freshmen. Patterson said one benefit of using players as freshmen is that they have a redshirt available later in their careers if needed.
Patterson said he does not know when Deante’ Gray will be ready to play following his knee surgery in March.
“A lot of times with those kind of things, it comes down to the mental aspect of it and not the physical aspect,” Patterson said. “He’s got to get to where he trusts it. It’s been six or seven months.”
Gray has a redshirt available, Patterson said.