Oregon running back Darrian Felix is enjoying a spring renewal.
The redshirt sophomore played sparingly in 2017 behind Royce Freeman and missed 11 games in 2018 after tearing a ligament in his foot.
Now healthy, Felix is trying to get himself back into the rotation after CJ Verdell (1,018 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Travis Dye (739 yards, four touchdowns) established themselves as the featured backs as freshmen last fall.
“It was hard,” Felix said of watching from the sideline after getting only 14 carries for 47 yards before suffering his season-ending injury. “I haven’t played football in six, seven months, so it feels real good to be back out here.”
Felix, who is from Fort Myers, Fla., played in nine games as a true freshman, finishing with 182 yards and a touchdown during coach Willie Taggart’s lone season at Oregon.
When asked about the impact Taggart and running backs coach Donte Pimpleton leaving abruptly for Florida State had on him, Felix noted that he was originally being recruited to Oregon by Mark Helfrich and Gary Campbell.
“It wasn’t really hard,” Felix sad of the transition. “Everybody comes and goes.”
With head coach Mario Cristobal, offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo and running backs coach Jim Mastro all entering their second seasons together in those positions, there are great expectations for an experienced offense quarterbacked by Justin Herbert.
Felix has worked to be more than just a face in the crowded backfield through 10 spring practices.
“Coach Mastro is a good dude, funny dude, means business. A really great guy,” Felix said. “I love coach Mastro to death, he’s like a father figure to me. He knows what he’s doing, he’s on top of things, he’s on top of me and on top of all of us in the running back room. I really appreciate him.”
Mastro added the pistol formation, which he helped make famous during his lengthy career at Nevada, to Oregon’s offense last spring. Arroyo said the Ducks will mix it up more with their formations this season and utilize the depth at running back.
“That rotation is a really healthy rotation. They all do a nice job. Coach Mastro does a great job coaching those guys,” Arroyo said. “They all have their little roles here and there. They’re a good blend. I don’t know if the rotation will change much, they were pretty productive.
“Keeping those guys healthy is an important deal in our offense.”
In addition to the notable production of Verdell and Dye last season, Cyrus Habibi-Likio scored seven touchdowns as a goal-line back.
There are some carries for Felix or perhaps a newcomer to replace with the graduation of Tony Brooks-James, who had 57 attempts for 313 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.
“It’s really nice to see Felix out there healthy. He really has some really special traits,” Arroyo said. “The ability to kind of be low to the ground, he’s explosive, has good vision, catches the ball well, top-end speed is good, can make you miss, got a little wiggle.
“And to have him healthy throughout the course of it has been really nice to see him keep progressing.”
Oregon’s historic 2019 recruiting class includes running backs Sean Dollars and Jayvaun Wilson.
Felix will try to use his head start this spring to solidify a spot in the rotation before the competition gets even more fierce during fall camp.
“Staying focused, staying healthy and just grinding,” is how Felix summed up his approach to a fresh start this spring.