COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Over time, the hurdles have progressively grown in size. These days, the obstacles Ezekiel Elliott are leaping over have the ability to move and fight back.
But Elliott's form is as impressive on the football field, flying over potential tacklers, as it ever was for the Ohio State running back when he was a high school track sensation. And whether the hurdles were 33 inches tall when he was 13 years old or 6-foot-1 and 250 pounds, as they are now, Dawn Elliott is watching the same thing in action from the stands.
It's a genetic gift from Mom, an all-conference track star at Missouri, to her son, a Heisman Trophy candidate with the Buckeyes.
“That’s me,” Dawn Elliott said with a laugh. “I get the hurdle credit.
“But truthfully, I don’t know where this is coming from [lately]. He’s been hurdling since he was 13; he’s just never done it before in a football game.”
Those moves have proved to be quite useful in pads recently, and Elliott has turned the hurdle into a go-to move that does far more than provide easy filler for the highlight reel.
During the last two weeks, Elliott has jumped over defenders three times to pick up extra yardage, including once with what his mom quickly identified as the wrong “lead leg” when his left was used instead of his typical right. But in addition to the short-term benefit of tacking on a couple of yards to a carry, Elliott has more practical reasons for taking to the air.
The junior running back has noticed more defenders lowering their targets when they try to tackle him, aiming for his legs to avoid the punishment he’s been known to deliver with his shoulder pads. Those leg shots not only hurt to receive, but they take away his ability to pick up yards after contact. That left Elliott in need of a different approach to account for the adjustment, and a solution wasn’t all that hard to find, thanks to his bloodline.
“It was not something I really planned, but it was just more of something that just kind of happened because of the way teams have been playing us,” Elliott said. “It seems to be a tendency for opposing defenses to aim for my legs when tackling, and it’s kind of hard to do anything when you’ve got a bunch of guys aiming for your legs. Those aren’t shots you want to take; they’re pretty dangerous.
“I just decided I’m going to try to go up and over some guys, and I’ve definitely seen it working already in games. Guys are just hesitant when they’re trying to tackle me now, and they don’t really want to hit me high. It plays to my advantage.”
More often than not, Elliott already has the advantage thanks to his natural athleticism, his ability to read blocks and a fearless attitude, whether he’s taking on a tackler head-on or jumping over him.
Just about the only thing that can slow down Elliott so far this season is Ohio State itself, which hasn’t been giving him rushing attempts as frequently as it did last year during his ridiculous run through the postseason. Elliott still has 455 rushing yards and five touchdowns and has been a factor as a receiver with eight receptions for 51 yards. But he has averaged five fewer touches per game than he did during the three-game barrage that produced nearly 700 rushing yards, eight touchdowns and a national championship.
Ohio State is aware of all those numbers, and coach Urban Meyer has made it clear he plans to get his workhorse tailback more involved as the season progresses. But if the concern for the moment is just about keeping the tailback’s body fresh, Elliott actually came up with his mother-approved way of doing that already.
“I was laughing and asked him about it after the game Saturday, and he said he had always just been scared to do it [on the football field],” Dawn Elliott said. “He did not do that in high school or any other time he played. But, I mean, it doesn’t surprise me, because Ezekiel is a very good athlete, just very athletic.”
And Mom’s influence in that is impossible to miss now.