Healthy, lighter Pace embraces leadership role among running backs

Healthy, lighter Pace embraces leadership role among running backs

Football

Healthy, lighter Pace embraces leadership role among running backs

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He wasn’t the only one sidelined this spring. Still, with a running back room high on top-end talent, it bothered Kobe Pace that he wasn’t able to start competing for reps.

“I hated not practicing, but that’s things you go through,” Clemson’s junior running back said. “That’s part of football. Injuries happen.”

Toe surgery, an injury he sustained late last season, kept Pace out of action, leaving the Tigers without their top two running backs during the spring. Will Shipley, who dealt with a leg injury last season, was also held out as a precaution, but both were back to full strength at the start of preseason camp last week.

Pace said he’s about as healthy as can be expected through eight practices.

“It’s camp, so I’m not going to say I’m pain-free,” Pace said with a smile. “But I feel good. Better than I was after the surgery.”

Pace is also down some pounds, weighing in at 205 pounds during the team’s pre-camp weigh-ins last week. He played at north of 210 pounds for much of last season, but Pace said he intentionally shed some weight so that he could “feel better” at the position.

“I like playing at different weights,” Pace said. “Throughout the season, I may be 210, 205 or 208, somewhere in between there. But I just like playing at different weights depending on how I’m feeling that week.”

Pace entered camp as a bonafide part of the backfield rotation after serving as the Tigers’ No. 2 back for much of last season. The question is, how many carries is he actually going to get? Shipley, the former five-star signee who led Clemson in rushing as a true freshman last season, is back at the top of the depth chart while another rising sophomore, Phil Mafah, is also competing for touches after getting all of the first-team reps in the spring.

The trio’s health throughout the course of the season may help answer that, but the competition hasn’t stopped Pace from helping his younger backfield mates, including true freshman Keith Adams Jr. Pace has just 122 carries entering his third season with the Tigers, but with Darien Rencher, Lyn-J Dixon and Michel Dukes no longer around, Pace suddenly finds himself as the veteran of the group.

No other scholarship back on the roster has been in the program longer than 19 months. Pace said he’s taken on the role of mentor, something he said he learned from some of the backs he used to share the position room with.

“Travis (Etienne), he taught me a lot. Darien taught me a lot,” Pace said. “I’m still young, but it’s like I’m the vet in the room. I’m the oldest in the room out of all the gguysus, so I try to be there for anyone who needs me. And I try to tell them it’s going to be all right and it’s just one day at a time. Because that’s how I was taught coming in a freshman.”

As for the competition, Pace described his position room as one that doesn’t have any egos. He’s confident it will all work itself out.

“I don’t think any one of us care who runs out there first,” he said. “I don’t care who has the most carries or nothing. I’d rather see all my brothers in the room feast than me going out there having the most carries or anything like that. That’s just something we’ve built with each other.”

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