This spring, they kind of want to see what I can do with the ball. We'll see how it goes. —Matt Hadley
PROVO — It’s been several years since BYU senior Matt Hadley has carried the football in a game.
Hadley has spent his Cougar career as a safety but during spring drills, he’s been switched to running back.
“It feels really, really good, actually. It really does,” Hadley said. “But there’s definitely some cobwebs I need to brush off. That’s for sure. But it feels great. I love it.”
In high school, Hadley rushed for 2,516 yards and a state-record 47 touchdowns as a junior at Washington's Connell High. He finished his prep career with 6,881 rushing yards and a state-record 746 points.
BYU coaches Kalani Sitake and Ed Lamb talked with Hadley last year about the possibility of him playing running back and he saw a little bit of time at that position in practice.
“I think it was more of a safeguard and protection, really, just in case our running backs got hurt,” Hadley said. “This spring, they kind of want to see what I can do with the ball. We’ll see how it goes.”
“It’s fun having him on the offensive side of the ball,” said quarterback Tanner Mangum. “There’s always experimentation during the spring and putting guys in new positions. He’s a veteran guy. He knows what he’s doing. He played a lot of running back in high school. He looks natural out there. He looks good with the ball in his hands.”
Offensive coordinator Ty Detmer said this is the time of year to experiment with position changes.
“He knows the defense so he can come over and give us a chance to evaluate him at running back and see if he can help us and make a difference there,” Detmer said. “Now’s the chance for us to give him a shot on the offense so that if he shows he can be a guy we’ll mix in the rotation or if we have some injuries and need to pull somebody over, now we have some experience there.”
Hadley is considered as a possible starter at free safety but he’s not worried about losing his job on defense.
“It was definitely a risk to come over. But at the same time, even if I was penciled in at No. 1 and stayed there, I knew it would be a competition anyway,” Hadley said. “There’s always guys right behind me that are able and will do just as good, if not better, than I. I wasn’t thinking too much about that.”
During the spring, Hadley is focusing all of his time and attention to playing running back.
“I feel like playing running back is one of the most natural positions,” he said. “If you’ve done it long enough and it becomes natural to you, then you step away from it and come back, hopefully the muscle memory will kick in. That should help.”
In high school, Hadley tried to emulate a couple of star NFL running backs.
“Whenever I wasn’t doing homework and working on the farm or at practice, the rest of the time I spent watching highlights of LaDainian Tomlinson and Frank Gore,” Hadley said. “Those are the two guys I tried to mimic 100 percent. Their running style is like art for me.”
With BYU’s all-time leading rusher Jamaal Williams having graduated and headed toward an NFL career, the offense could use another option in the backfield, along with Squally Canada, K.J. Hall, Ula Tolutau, Riley Burt and Trey Dye.
“If it was needed and the coaches feel it’s the right thing to do,” Hadley said, “then I would be more than willing to do it.”
After moving over from the defensive side of the ball, Hadley said when he runs he wants to be like Williams and “just be nasty and run angry. When we’re coming to smack somebody you can’t be their best friend. You’ve got to bring the pain. I hope that will transition over to the running back position. Jamaal was a perfect example of that.”