New Baylor running backs coach Khenon Hall expects big things out of tailback trio

Baylor football associate head coach and running backs coach Khenon Hall spent the last two seasons at SMU as the assistant coach working with the tailbacks, and in 2023 owning hat title as well as the run-game coordinator. Michael Haag | Sports Editor

By Cal Logan | Reporter

It didn’t take long for Baylor football associate head coach and new running backs coach Khenon Hall to notice the talent in his position room. With returners who include junior Richard Reese, senior Dominic Richardson and sophomore Dawson Pendergrass, Hall said he’s thrilled with his corps as spring camp rolls on.

“I love having that type of competition in the room,” Hall said. “I’m big on having a unit where we can use multiple guys. I’m a running back by committee type guy.”

During his last season at SMU, Hall had three different tailbacks with close to or more than 500 rushing yards. Senior Jaylan Knighton had 745 rushing yards with seven rushing touchdowns, junior LJ Johnson Jr. had 576 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns and junior Camar Wheaton had 410 yards to go with five rushing touchdowns.

“So for me, it’s huge for those guys to have a lot of differences, because they’re all different types of backs,” Hall said of his current group. “So I like that they’re all different. I like that I have a good group [and] deep group. And I’m very happy to have them.”

Hall isn’t the only new face for the Bears, who finished the 2023 season with a 3-9 record. Hall is paired with new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, and the new running backs coach said the two of them are “on the same page” in terms of run and pass game balance.

“I think what he wants to do and what I want to do, as far as running the ball physically downhill, is the same mission,” Hall said.

Hall said he has a lot of versatility with his three top running backs: Reese, Richardson and Pendergrass.

“You have Dom, who’s the veteran guy, the older guy in the room. He can do a little bit of everything. He’s a slasher — one-cut-downhill-type back,” Hall said. “Then you have, obviously, Rich, who is kind of like a ball of fire. He’s a very explosive ball of dynamite.

“You have Dawson, who you kind of will underestimate at times, but he is really light on his feet. [He has] really good burst, good pad leverage. He plays hard. He runs hard downhill.”

With so many potential starters in the running back room, competition could turn the guys onto each other, but the Bears have been using it to strengthen each other, according to Richardson.

“We’re brothers,” Richardson said. “The competition is there. When we go on that field, we know we’re going to work each other. There’s no, like, ‘I’m better than him or him.’ We’re a team. … We go out there and make each other better. We know the mentality of the room.”

Richardson added that the entire tailback room has responded well to the addition of Hall.

“We love that man,” Richardson said. “He brings a lot to the table. We’re excited to have him. He has a great mentality for us running backs. He holds the standard very high. It’s only going to make us better. We have big dreams, and that’s the kind of coach we need.”

Baylor is coming off a disappointing season in which it went 1-7 at home, but Richardson said the team as a whole is doing a good job of bouncing back this spring.

“We know what went down last year wasn’t very good,” Richardson said. “But this year, we have to put that in the past, put it to sleep and move on to the next. This spring and fall, it’s all work. We’re all determined to be great. The bar is high. We know what to do when we step on the field, so it motivates us so much.”

Reese, the 2022 Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, is heading into his third year with the Bears, and he said he’s holding himself to a high standard.

“My expectation is just coming out there and being great,” Reese said. “All of us, and my teammates, we’re getting better every day. We learned a new offense, but like I said, we’re getting better each day.”

With Spavital bringing the spread offense back to Baylor for the first time since the Art Briles era, the running back room’s approach may look a little different.

“Last year’s offense, it was going downhill real fast,” Reese said. “This year’s offense, you have to kind of slow down and read your keys perfectly. That way, you can get downhill.”

Pendergrass, who led the team in rushing touchdowns (five) as a true freshman last year, said his ability to see the field so much in 2023 was “surreal.”

“I did gain a lot of experience from it,” Pendergrass said. “But honestly, last year really doesn’t matter, what I did last year. I need to start looking forward into next year.”

Pendergrass said he prides himself on hard-nosed running and fighting for extra yards.

“I just like hitting people,” Pendergrass said. “You stick me out there, and I just like running the ball.”

Pendergrass said he and the team have a focus on “proving others wrong” this season, as the Bears feel they have a lot of unfinished business from the 2023 season.

“I think our grit is going to surprise a lot of people,” Pendergrass said. “And our leadership — we have some great leaders on the team. [We have] Richard and Dom back there, and we have some playmakers.”