Duke of hazard: Catalon aiming for injury-free season
Cougar running back Duke Catalon burst onto the scene last season after waiting more than two years to see his first collegiate game action.
After redshirting his freshmen year at UT-Austin in 2014, then sitting out the following year due to NCAA transfer rules, Catalon showed flashes of his capabilities in nine games for the Cougars. Despite a shortened season due to a head injury, the Houston native found the end zone seven times with 809 total yards in nine games.
Having a year of game experience under his belt helps the junior feel prepared to take the next step as a college running back.
“I’m more comfortable with the plays, so I think I can go faster than I did last season,” Catalon said. “I want more. I missed four games last season. That hurt me and hurt the team, so I want more.”
Catalon’s season was off to a quick start before he suffered a concussion against the Texas State Bobcats on Sept. 24. Not taking any chances, the coaching staff pulled Catalon from the game after accumulating 70 yards on just 10 attempts.
The Cougars slid out of San Marcos with a 64-3 win but would lose their starting running back for the next three games. Upon his return to the field Oct. 22, Catalon displayed the versatility the team had been missing by collecting 54 yards on the ground in addition to 66 receiving yards.
“The thing about Duke is that he runs extremely well out of the back field and can really catch the ball,” said Kenith Pope, the Cougar running backs coach. “He can stretch the defense in many ways in the back field as well as when we get the ball to him through the air. He’s one of those backs who can do it all.”
Versatility has become a theme in Cougar football as multiple players showed their ability to play more than one position over the last three seasons.
Pope said he has complete confidence in Catalon in the team’s passing and running game but wants to see his running back play a full season.
“He’s like a receiver. It’s not like putting a running back out there and saying ‘Can he handle it?’ He can handle it,” Pope said. “That’s what I’m excited about — if he can have an injury-free year, then I think we will have got something going really well.”
Football has added depth at running back, which allows Catalon to take less hits over the course of the season.
Operating in a multi-tailback system with the likes of Mulbah Car, Josh Burrell, Dillon Birden and others allows Catalon to get much-needed rest over the course of games, keeping him healthy in the long run.
“I feel good this year. (The running backs) are all healthy. So far, everything is going good right now,” Catalon said. “I think we’re going to be good. Everybody is tuned in and coming along, so I think we’re gonna be just fine.”
Catalon will get his first run at improving upon last season on Sept. 3 when the Cougars open their season in San Antonio.
In addition to staying healthy, the soft-spoken running back has his goals for 2017 clearly defined.
“I want to go undefeated. I want to go to a good bowl game, and I want to put up some big numbers,” he said.