Georgia Tech running back Jamal Haynes back for an encore in 2024

This time last year Jamal Haynes was a Georgia Tech wide receiver. Now he’s Tech’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2017.

What will Haynes do for an encore in 2024?

“Running back is a very detailed position, and you just want to come in knowing exactly what to do, when to do it and how to do it,” Haynes said Tuesday after practice, Tech’s eighth of the spring. “I actually wrote down a few personal things I wanted to get better on this spring, and we’re working through those.”

A 5-foot-9, 180-pound junior, Haynes, who refused to reveal what those personal goals for this year are, is coming off a 1,059-yard season, his first as Tech’s starting primary ball carrier. He made the switch to the backfield after Tech’s 2023 spring practice and had a breakout season by averaging more than six yards per carry, scoring seven times on the ground, recording four 100-yard games (including a career-high 128 against Central Florida in the Gasparilla Bowl) and adding 20 receptions for 151 yards and a score in 13 games.

A former Grayson High School standout, Haynes had appeared in only 11 games in two seasons before 2023, mostly on special teams as a backup wideout. Those days are long gone.

“The comfort level definitely is a little bit better,” Haynes said of preparing for a second season at running back. “The mentality is still the same: come in ready to work, ready to get the information I need and ready to go out and perform.”

Haynes is at the forefront of a running back group that has some depth, but not a wealth of experience.

Senior Trey Cooley arrived as a transfer from Louisville in 2023 and totaled 274 yards on 64 carries for the Jackets last season – with all those numbers coming in the first eight games of Tech’s schedule. Evan Dickens, a redshirt freshman, also received 11 carries, mostly in mop-up duties in blowouts wins or losses. Walk-on sophomore Chad Alexander was a special-teams standout in his first season with the Jackets.

That trio is battling for a spot near the top of the depth chart with Anthony Carrie, a four-star prospect and the last piece of Tech’s 2024 recruiting class.

“Now the biggest question mark is who may be that second guy?” Tech running backs coach Norval McKenzie said. “I think the young guys are doing well so far in spring ball. They’ve all been pushing each other and competing really hard. I think right now we got a good group of young guys who are competing, practicing hard, doing all the little things that you ask. I feel really good about the group collectively as a whole right now.”

Tech finished the 2023 season as the No. 12 rushing offense in the nation, leading the ACC with 203.8 rushing yards per game. That was a 70-yard improvement from 2022 and the program’s highest total since the 2018 option team ran for 325 per game.

Quarterback Haynes King contributed 737 rushing yards to those efforts. Veteran Dontae Smith, now prepping for professional football, ran for 504 yards on 100 carries and is the only key loss out of Tech’s backfield from 2023.