Ja’Quinden Jackson’s college career at running back started out of necessity.

With Tavion Thomas’s availability changing game to game and Chris Curry’s season-ending injury, Jackson — who entered the 2022 season as a quarterback — moved to running back.

The position wasn’t completely foreign to him — he played running back in junior high and his freshman year of high school before transitioning to quarterback — but being able to contribute against Power Five teams is a big leap from high school football.

By the year’s end, Jackson had cemented himself at the position, rushing for 97 yards and a score vs. Arizona, 117 yards and three touchdowns against Colorado and 105 yards and two trips to the end zone in the Pac-12 championship game vs. USC. He added 81 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl against Penn State.

He ended the season with 78 carries for 531 yards and nine touchdowns.

“I found my joy again,” Jackson said last year of the move to running back. He had been the third-string quarterback, and the position change got him on the field.

With an entire offseason of focus on running back, Jackson is expected to make a jump forward. He’s seen improvement in his route running and pass catching. Last year, he had one reception, but could figure into the passing game more this year.

At 6-foot-2, 228 pounds, Jackson is the biggest in the running back room, allowing him to be a physical back.

The quarterback experience also helps him as a running back.

“Just coming from quarterback and going to running back, I just see from a quarterback’s perspective and a running back’s perspective because now I’m in the backfield and I see coverages,” Jackson said. “I know who’s coming, who’s not. I know what coverage they’re in so it’s like playing quarterback really helped me play running back.”

Asked what he brings to the room, Jackson said his leadership.

“One thing about me, they can always come ask me, fall back on me, stuff like that,” he said.

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The Utes have three other running backs that have experience at Utah and will be in the rotation — Micah Bernard, Jaylon Glover and Chris Curry.

After entering the transfer portal in the offseason, but ultimately deciding to return to Utah, Bernard enters his junior season with the Utes.

He had 106 carries for 533 yards and four touchdowns last season, rushed for 91 yards and a score against Colorado and 88 yards and a touchdown in the Pac-12 championship vs. USC.

Bernard has improved his patience in the backfield, learning from Utah running back Charlie Vincent.

“Charlie (Vincent)’s very patient. He’s probably the most patient in the room right now. And I’ve just been taking the way he reads the D-line and the defense and just putting it into my game,” Bernard said. “I’ve been seeing tremendous strides. Just being able to see the hole, hit the hole, just glide through it. It’s been incredible.”

Bernard was Utah’s most prolific backfield receiver with 34 catches for 314 yards and a score.

Glover rushed for 360 yards and four touchdowns on 78 carries in his freshman season, and said everything clicked for him during the Washington State game, where he had 20 carries for 76 yards and a score.

“I just felt like Washington State was a big game for me coming out with 20 carries. I never did that in college football. So definitely got my feet wet and I just really have really high expectations for myself this year and I’m ready to go,” he said.

Glover has worked on his speed, ability to fight through tackles and balance in preparation for his sophomore campaign.

“Honestly, running through tackles and continue to getting better with speed. I feel like I’ve been really good with my balance over this camp,” Glover said. “Staying available has been huge. I’ve been grateful not having the injuries, but I just really feel like my knowledge of the game has increased and I just feel I could be more of myself out there on the field.”

LSU transfer Chris Curry, who was part of the Tigers’ 2019 national championship team, suffered a season-ending injury three games into the season, returns for another season.

He broke out in Utah’s win over Southern Utah, rushing for 60 yards and a touchdown, before his year ended the next game.

Accountability is a big theme for the running backs room this year.

“They hold each other accountable when they hold the young guys accountable too. If the young guys are doing something wrong, they have no problem coaching. Sometimes I don’t even have to coach, they beat me to it, which is good. You want that kind of camaraderie and that type of family,” running backs coach Quinton Ganther said.

That accountability extends to Ganther as well.

“He’s been amazing. He likes to be held accountable. ... He will make sure he’s held accountable,” Bernard said.

A historical position of strength for Utah, Bernard thinks Utah’s running backs room can be amongst the best in the nation.

“We’re going to become closer because we’re not going to get mad if you’re telling me I’m not doing something right. No, you’re making me better and I appreciate that. So that’s why we’re going to be the best in the country,” Bernard said.

Utah Utes’ Micah Bernard runs with the ball.
Utah Utes Micah Bernard runs with the ball while playing the USC Trojans during the Pac-12 Championship at the Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. The Utes won 47-24. | Ben B. Braun, Deseret News