FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd has played a variety of roles, both literally and figuratively, since his roller coaster college football career began.
He was an elite recruit who stayed home to play for Texas A&M. When he found reps to be few and far between in his lone season at College Station, he transferred to Independence Community College, unexpectedly starring in the Netflix series "Last Chance U."
After 22 carries for 99 yards against Tulsa — his third-consecutive breakout performance — Boyd finally has earned the role he hoped for when he was recruited: featured running back in the Southeastern Conference.
"It feels pretty good," Boyd said. "I want to keep it going, keep it up. I think I have some things to work on, but it's getting there."
With 75 rushes and 502 yards this season, Boyd is leading an Arkansas backfield that includes two tailbacks who were listed on the preseason watch list for the Doak Walker Award, junior Devwah Whaley and sophomore Chase Hayden. He leads the team with nine plays of at least 20 yards, and that big-play ability has taken the load off first-year starting quarterback Ty Storey, who sat out of the Tulsa game as he recovered from injury.
"The kid just runs really hard," Storey said. "I think a lot of it is God-given ability, but then he also works really hard. Just seeing him progress the way he has, it's been really good."
Boyd arrived on campus in August, giving him little time to get into game shape before the first game. After getting only eight carries in the first three games of the season, the redshirt sophomore seemed to be the offense's go-to guy in the game against Auburn on Sept. 22. He hasn't relinquished that responsibility since as Arkansas (2-6, 0-4 SEC) prepares to host Vanderbilt (3-5, 0-4) on Saturday.
"I think a lot of that has to do with him getting into game shape," coach Chad Morris said. "A big part of who we are is being able to block and protect for that quarterback and also to catch balls out of the backfield. He's done an incredible job with that."
Including the Auburn game, Boyd has also either led the team in receptions or shared the lead three times. His three catches against Tulsa gave him that distinction once again. At this point in the season, he's second in receptions behind receiver La'Michael Pettway.
"It was kind of a big shocker to me, but I just had to play my role," Boyd said. "I did not catch the ball out of the backfield in high school. I think at Independence I caught the ball twice, maybe three times."
In two straight games, Boyd appeared to be heading toward 200 rushing yards or more, but injuries sidelined him before he could get there. Against Ole Miss on Oct. 13, a hit aggravated a back issue, ending his day and Arkansas' momentum in the same play. The Hogs went on to lose, 37-33.
Despite coaches putting a cap on his rush attempts against Tulsa, he started cramping and went to the locker room. He returned to the sidelines in full pads, he didn't play another snap in the shutout win.
The Hogs need to get continued production from Hayden and freshman Maleek Williams to lessen Boyd's load. Hayden ran the ball nine times for 43 yards against Tulsa, while Williams added his second touchdown of the season in what was his first meaningful opportunity since the North Texas game on Sept. 15.
If Boyd and Storey can stay healthy and replicate the dynamic offensive abilities they displayed against Ole Miss prior to their injuries, the second half of the season could be an indicator of what's to come in Morris' second year.
"The way he's progressed is similar to what we've done as a team," Morris said. "We've just kinda gotten a little better because they've become more comfortable with what we're trying to do."