When playing big time college football you can never have too much depth, even at a supposed position of strength. As Rutgers finishes their non-conference schedule and gets ready to play Big Ten football, they may have found something more than depth in their running backs room.
Kyle Monangai had two strong games to start the season against Temple and Syracuse and has built a case to see more action than some may have anticipated come conference games. Monangai started the season behind incumbent starter Isaih Pacheco and backup Aaron Young, and while he likely hasn’t passed over Young for backup duties, he has put his name in the conversation for more meaningful carries. That’s saying something for someone that is still considered a freshman when accounting for the extra year of eligibility gained from last year and how that plays into his potential for the future.
Monangai was somewhat of a late add to the 2019 recruiting class and he has flown mostly under the radar since his days at Don Bosco when he played along the more highly touted recruit in Wisconsin running back Jalen Berger. At the time of his commitment, Monangai had one other Power 5 offer in Cal and was mostly being recruited by mid-major and Ivy League schools.
Production wasn’t the cause of the slow recruitment for Monangai, however. In his senior season for the Ironmen, Monangai carried the ball 126 times for 1,040 yards, adding 504 yards on 27 catches and 17 total touchdowns. And Monangai wasn’t known as a one-dimensional back at Bosco, either, leading some to believe his 5-foot-9 stature and lack of breakaway speed was what turned some bigger programs away. But from what has been said about Monangai by his former coaches in Mike Teel and Dan Sabella to now-coach Greg Schiano, he is someone comfortable playing on all three downs.
Talk about the rising running back has been growing after his two-week performance and Rutgers fans are now seeing what his coaches have known. Monangai is known as a hard worker and has a bruising, Big Ten running style to him.
The early production from this season hasn’t come in the closing minutes of games, either. Monangai had three carries in the second quarter against Temple and two in the third quarter before taking three carries and a reception in the fourth. His first career touchdown gave Rutgers a 26-0 advantage over the Owls and his second touchdown of the game was the score that put the game at 61-14, so he was used in various spots throughout the game.
Monangai has shown to be a good complement to Pacheco and Young and gives Rutgers a big, dangerous backfield with Johnny Langan near the goal line. Though measured at 5-foot-9, Monangai is a bigger back, having pushed himself over 200 pounds this offseason. He runs with an explosiveness and isn’t afraid to lower his shoulder and put his weight into a defender as he keeps his legs moving and body going forward. Speed may not be Monangai’s calling, but he has enough of it to break into the second and third level, where his size gives him an advantage over would-be tacklers. His stiff arm and big frame won’t let defenders use arm tackles to bring him down. He has a downhill style that fits well in the Big Ten and looks to be adding another dimension to the Scarlet Knights’ offense. But he’s not just a big, bruising back. Monangai can catch the ball out of the backfield and should rack up plenty of yards after contact. He has also been praised for his pass protection and patience with the ball in his hands.
That’s all the more impressive when you consider Monangai was used exclusively on special teams last year, where he also made a tackle with fellow back Jamier Wright-Collins against Temple and another against Syracuse. Against the Orange, Monangai was used in the first quarter with two receptions before not seeing action in the second quarter. He would go on to rush 8 times for 20 yards and add another touchdown against Syracuse, giving him three in two games.
Schiano praised Monangai after the Temple game, saying he had a good training camp. He mentioned how he has a great pad level when running and he’s aggressive and decisive. He said the whole running back room was something he liked about the team and that they all would be needed to win games, and so far Monangai has proven he is capable of helping the team do just that. Take for instance against Syracuse. Monangai put Rutgers on the board after a Dino Babers penalty cost the Orange for unsportsmanlike conduct. Monangai took the handoff from Noah Vedral four yards in the backfield and bounced the carry outside. He put his foot in the ground and made one cut to get behind a block and exploded to the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown run. Coming up with those types of plays in a big moment like that as a freshman, being able to capitalize on another teams mistakes, will be huge for his confidence and shows the coaching staff what he’s capable of.
While he won’t be taking over starting duties anytime soon, and he still has to prove himself against Big Ten competition, Monangai has at least played his way into that conversation after two games. Delaware shouldn’t be taken lightly, so it’s not a given Monangai gets more than the 8 carries he had in each game, but he’s proven he can be a factor in the red zone at the least and the level of talent doesn’t fall off when he enters the game.
Running back is an unforgiving position and teams will welcome all the depth they can get to spell their starters. Pacheco doesn’t have to be a workhorse back because he’s had a capable backup in Young and now Monangai gives Rutgers another runner and added dimension to the offense. It’ll be interesting to see how offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson involves him in the rotation moving forward and how he adjusts to the rigors of the Big Ten and if he can be a productive back in the years to come.