KOCH: Tion Green Showing Maturity|
Sept. 15, 2015
By Bill Koch
CINCINNATI – The transformation of University of Cincinnati running back Tion Green from an unhappy, sometimes pouting sophomore into an upbeat, productive redshirt junior began late in 2013 with a selfless gesture from a teammate who competed with him for playing time.
With Hosey Williams at running back, the Bearcats had driven to the SMU 7-yard line. As he watched from the Nippert Stadium sideline, Green was sure Williams would run the ball in for the touchdown. Instead, to Green’s great surprise, Williams took himself out of the game.
“He came out and I was gonna let him stay in and finish the drive,” Green said. “I came in and it was an easy touchdown and I went to him on the sideline and I went, ‘Bro, why did you just give me your touchdown?’ He was like, ‘Man, you my brother. We all eat together. We all play together.’ Ever since then, that changed my whole aspect at running back. That changed everything.”
Thus was born the new Tion Green, a player who focuses on being upbeat and being on time for everything – practice, the weight room and classes. During practice, he dedicates himself to giving everything he had on every play and volunteers to play on every special team.
He didn’t get the chance to fully demonstrate how much he had matured last year because a shoulder injury ended his season after three games. But the change is evident this year.
After two games, Green is UC’s leading rusher with 186 yards on 30 carries for a 6.2-yard average and two touchdowns. This week he’s listed first on the UC depth chart at running back ahead of Williams and Mike Boone for the first time this season. The three backs share roughly equal playing time and decide among themselves how to divvy up the reps, although there are times when the coaching staff will dictate who’s on the field depending on the situation.
Such a trusting approach will work only if all three players are unselfish. It has worked well so far, with Green - a 6-foot, 220-pound redshirt junior from Sanford, Fla.- leading the way statistically.
“Tion is light-years ahead of where he was last year,” UC coach Tommy Tuberville said Tuesday. “We’ve got a lot more confidence in him because he prepares himself better. Tion is the complete guy. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s accepted the challenge.”
Those are the words Green has been waiting to hear ever since he signed with UC when Butch Jones was the head coach. Jones talked in glowing terms about Green’s potential before he left to become the head coach at Tennessee after the 2012 season, a move that left Green wondering how he fit in.
When Tuberville brought in Williams and Rod Moore as junior college transfers, a befuddled Green found himself having to start virtually from scratch as he entered his sophomore year.
“I was like, Jones left and I don’t know these people coming in,” Green said. “They just threw those guys in front of me. I was peed off. I handled myself very immaturely. I was pouty. I was always upset. I wasn’t smiling. I was just mad because I wasn’t playing.”
Green’s situation became even more muddled when Boone made a splash last year while Green and Williams were hurt. He was back to No. 3 on the depth chart behind Boone, a player he had helped to mentor, and Williams. But this time, rather than sulk, he remembered the new attitude that was inspired by Williams’ gesture against SMU.
“It was like God gave me a chance to retake my test,” Green said. “I got injured. How did I act over my injury? I prayed to him, if you give me another chance and put me in a situation to be successful, I promise, if you give me the strength, I’ll try every day to be happy.”
Green, who underwent surgery on his shoulder last October, impressed the coaching staff during training camp this summer, prompting Tuberville to talk repeatedly to reporters about how hard he was running. At one point, Tuberville said he had begun to wonder during the previous two years if Green still enjoyed being a running back. He never told Green that personally, but Green says he understands what the UC coach meant.
“To tell you the truth, I think it’s about time that I start being the back that I was supposed to be,” Green said. “It’s been a couple years here where I wasn’t persistent enough and last year being hurt it took a year away. Also, it makes you hungry, man, when you go through an injury and you’re third string again and the guy you actually coached last year, Mike Boone, is ahead of you. You never know when it’s your last down playing football and me getting that season-ending injury, you just never know, so why take a play off?”
Green understands that he remains part of a three-man rotation so all he can do is make the most of every carry he gets. When the others carry the ball, he’ll cheer them on.
“It’s all about maturity,” Green said. “Tion from his sophomore year to his redshirt junior year is a completely different person. I didn’t handle my my three-back running back rotation well then when it was around (the first time) and that’s on me. I wasn’t a very selfless guy.
“Everybody’s got that greed in them, but now two years later, these guys are my best friends. We all know we’ve got to be selfless and we all understand that the team needs all three of us throughout the year. My attitude back then was night and day compared to what it is now. I can admit that on my own.”
Tuberville believes part of the change in Green was the result of the way offensive coordinator Eddie Gran pushed him to get the most out of his substantial ability.
“(Green) had a lot of growing up to do and still does,” Tuberville said. “But they all do. They’re kids. These are young guys that we’re playing with. It’s our job to have patience, know when to push them, know when not to push them, but get the most out of them. I think the strain and the push that coach Gran put on him as a running back to realize his potential, he didn’t react as well. But now he understands the potential he has.”
That may be true, but it was just as important for Green to understand what it takes to be a good teammate. He owes that to Hosey Williams.
// GLARING HOPE
“Offensively we had some glaring hope of this offense getting better,” Tuberville said. “We got (nearly) 600 yards of offense against a team that last year we struggled even putting a drive together. That gives us hope. And I liked how we handled things defensively for most of the game. We are a much better team than we were at this time last year and we’ve got a chance to get better.
“I was really impressed with our offense for most of the game other than the red zone the first few drives. Last year we had a tough time making a first down on this same defense. That shows me that our running game has a chance to be better. Our offensive line was much better against this team than it was the year before. A team that had just gotten 10 sacks against a Penn State team barely laid a hand on (quarterback) Gunner (Kiel) the entire night and we had to throw the ball quite a bit after getting behind. There were a lot of bright points in what we did.”
Bill Koch covered UC Athletics for 27 years - 15 at The Cincinnati Post and 12 at The Cincinnati Enquirer - before joining the staff of GoBEARCATS.com in January, 2015 as featured columnist. Follow him on Twitter @bkoch.