Aaron Wimberly rockets to top of depth chart after big game against Tulsa


The Associated Press

Iowa State running back Aaron Wimberly fights for yards in a loss to Iowa. After running for 137 yards in a win over Tulsa last Thursday, the Cyclones' first victory of the year, Wimberly was named the team's starting running back. 

Evan Berkowitz

Aaron Wimberly only got less than one-third of the carries at Iowa Western Community College last year. So far, the junior has only gotten 26 percent of the carries this year.

But that’s about to change.

“He’s our guy,” head coach Paul Rhoads said. “Aaron is the starter going into Game 4 and will get the bulk of
the carries.”

Until this point, it has been running back-by-committee. He’s split carries with three seniors – James White, Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson.

“There are a number of reasons that played into a lack of running back snaps [for Wimberly],” Rhoads said. “Some had to do with the game plan, knowledge and experience.”

Three games in, though, Wimberly has taken advantage of his opportunities and rocketed to the top of depth chart.

“He’s got a step of quickness on the others right now,” Rhoads said.

After getting just two carries in the Week 2 loss to Iowa, Wimberly, a 5-foot-9-inch, 173-pound tailback, burst onto the scene last week. He made the most of his first career start, rushing for 137 yards on 19 attempts in Iowa State’s first victory, helping Wimberly earn Big 12 co-offensive Player of the Week honors.

“I was waiting for my opportunity,” Wimberly said. “I got an opportunity that game and took advantage of it.”

And even the man gunning for his job was impressed.

“The way he gets up the field, you can’t replicate that,” Jeff Woody, the backup running back, said. “That type of one-cut burst is tough to stop. He can move.”

That one-cut style is what drew Rhoads to Wimberly, a heavily sought after recruit who led Iowa Western to an NJCAA National Championship in 2012 by rushing for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns – the same team that featured Texas’ last opponent, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters.

“He is one of those guys you don’t need to spend a lot of time with in the evaluation,” Rhoads said. “You saw the speed, the ability to hit a small hole and very little wasted movement and motion. He is very much a simple one-cut guy.”

With Wimberly, who has yet to be tackled for a loss after 29 carries, running the ball, the Iowa State offense opens up – something it has had trouble doing in recent years.

“Sam [Richardson] is a great QB, but it’s hard to throw when they put six guys in the box and drop everybody else,” Woody said. “Having that successful running game pulls people back in the box more which helps Sam open the play book more.”

Rhoads agrees.

“There are number of things you can’t do without successful run plays,” Rhodes said. “There were a number of successful three- or four-yard runs in [the Tulsa game] that created play action and a 36-yard run later. You cannot be one dimensional and be successful unless to you got a world of talent on the O-line, a first-round draft pick slinging it around and a corps of star receivers. We don’t have that.”

Moving from the JUCO ranks to FBS and from third-string to starter would cause many athletes get caught up in the hype. But Wimberly still responds to reporters with “sir” and deflects attention away from him.

“I have to thank the O-line and wide receivers because they blocked really well for me,” Wimberly said after the Tulsa game when asked about his breakout performance.

And when the lights turn on Thursday night, Texas knows they have to watch out for him.

“Wimberly has tremendous speed,” Longhorns head coach Mack Brown said. “He was a big guy in the Tulsa game.  He changes who they are offensively.”

He’s ready for a bigger workload. He’s ready to prove himself. And he’s ready for the ESPN spotlight.

“It’s a big stage for me,” Wimberly said. “(The) national championship was big, but this is real big because it’s (in prime time). Everyone’s watching.”