Position switches in football are relatively common, but what happened to Hassan Haskins is much more rare.
The redshirt freshman doesn’t remember exactly when, but he knows that sometime last year, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh called him in for a meeting and told him that instead of playing running back, where he was recruited, his best fit was at linebacker. But after a season of learning how to play viper, Haskins switched back to his original position.
For many players, such a switch would delay their development and keep them from seeing the field much. Not for Haskins.
Saturday in Champaign, Haskins took the field on the fifth play of the Wolverines’ first drive. On their four previous plays, freshman running back Zach Charbonnet had run all the way to the 29-yard line, but Haskins did him one better.
After the handoff, Haskins spun past his would-be tackler and broke through, with nothing but turf between him and the end zone. He topped off his first career touchdown with an emphatic fist pump.
“I was trying to get a touchdown,” Haskins said. “Every play I run, I’m trying to get a touchdown. I just move. I felt it after my spin — nobody around me, so I took off.”
Added senior tight end Nick Eubanks: “I was blocking, was thinking the play was over and this dude springs out from a tackle and keeps his feet going, so I was kinda surprised.”
Haskins finished the game with 125 yards on 12 rushes and was Michigan’s leading rusher on the day in net yards, yards per rush (10.4) and longest run (29 yards).
But the performance didn’t come from nowhere. Anyone who’s been watching the last few games could see that Haskins was primed for a breakout. Against Rutgers two weeks ago, Haskins ran for 45 yards, including a game-high 15-yard run. He also garnered 22 yards on 10 carries against Iowa and even made a tackle while playing special teams.
If Haskins ever questioned the coaches’ plans for him, he never said so Monday, instead repeating that he was willing to do whatever it took to help the team and that he wanted to make the most of any opportunity he got, no matter what side of the ball. And instead of stunting his development, Haskins believes the switch to linebacker aided him when he returned to running back.
“I feel like I can tell what the defense, what they doing, so they help me for sure.” Haskins said. “I feel like I got a defensive mindset. I think I have a better vision of a running lane. I’m more comfortable.”
Senior viper Khaleke Hudson worked with Haskins during his brief foray into playing defense and in Haskins saw a fast-twitch player with good instincts and a knack for the ball. Linebackers have to see the same holes as the running backs — and their success is often predicated on seeing those holes before the running backs do.
From his vantage point, Hudson sees how much Haskins’ experience on the other side helped his vision. But he also made sure to add that Haskins was “great in man coverage” and “could definitely come back and play on the defensive side of the ball” if Michigan ever needed him.
Now, Haskins seems to have firmly cemented himself as the fourth member of the Wolverines’ running back rotation, a unit that seemed to finally find its footing against the Illini after several lackluster games. And if his teammates and coaches are to be believed, this is just the start for Haskins.
“The progression has been ascending each and every week,” Harbaugh said. “Some wild type of plays in practice and now we’ve seen it in games, somebody getting better and better. This last game was a great game, 100 yards. … His ability to see holes, sink his hips, get yards after contact really showed up.”