Queenshon Judkins talks little and refuses to brag.

But perhaps he should.

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Before running back Ole Miss became a freshman superstar and SEC record holder, he was a quiet and little-known rookie on Pike Road, Alabama. His speed didn’t impress coaches across the country, but his physique, work ethic and performance were incredibly hard to ignore. In the film, he appeared on screen as a high school player, prompting a family friend Torre Smith Contact a few buddies with NFL connections to confirm your suspicions. Smith, a native of Auburn, Alabama, grew up with a second Dallas Cowboys coach. Joe Witt Jr.and sent him the film along with his friends Marcus Washingtonformer Auburn and All-Pro NFL linebacker, and Ryan Clarkwho played for the Washington Redskins along with Washington.

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“They immediately started telling me that he could really play. They let me know I’m not crazy,” Smith said this week with a laugh.

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A few years later, Judkins became the nation’s top freshman runner and one of the first contenders for the Heisman Trophy for 2023. It took the former three-star running back just 11 games to break Ole Miss’s single-season record after rushing for 214 yards. performance in Arkansas last week – a record that has stood since 1949 (You are Dottley). He enters Controversy Week as a Doak Walker Award semi-finalist and owns five SEC Player of the Week plaques with 1,385 yards. He was only 231 yards short of breaking the SEC freshman rushing record with two games remaining. Judkins and Ole Miss take on Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

You probably didn’t know Judkins this time around a year ago when the recruiting cycle was in full swing and the best players in the country were picking schools. Coaches in his backyard were aware of the 5’11” guard weighing 210 pounds, but instead they focused on other players in the state, including the 5-star Emmanuel HendersonA longstanding commitment from the state of Alabama.

“We saw him come out last year,” the Alabama coach said. Nick Saban said before meeting with Ole Miss in November. “Looking back, it would have been great to have him on our team.”

So what happened? How did Alabama miss out on a potential All-American in the future? How did Auburn, 45 minutes from Pike Road, not follow him? For that matter, how did someone at the SEC not recruit Judkins?

Judkins caught the attention of Auburn, a nearby SEC high school, early on, and was invited to camp before his junior season by then linebacker coach Travis Williams. It was on that day that Judkins’ name became popular.

“There were a few kids already committed to college teams and Q was like, ‘Coach, I think I’m better than them,’” Smith said. “He really believed in it, and he really did.”

Auburn running back coach Cadillac Williams offered him a scholarship, his first at FBS, but it was only later revealed that it was a non-committal offer because Gus Malzan was fired as head coach of the Tigers. Boise State Brian Hars was hired in December 2020 and canceled the recruitment for unknown reasons, sources told 247Sports. Only after Auburn lost another runner in the recruiting cycle did Harsin attempt to re-recruit Judkins in November 2021. Auburn called, as well as Michigan and Notre Dame, which he visited in the fall, but he ignored them and stayed with the coach. Lane Kiffinwho remained close to the family throughout his junior and senior seasons and was the only FBS coach to attend Judkins’ Class 5A state championship game in Birmingham.

Meanwhile, Alabama never offered a scholarship and stuck with Henderson and 4-star Jamarion Miller from Tyler, Texas.

Judkins’ rise in high school is similar to other future FBS athletes. He was faster and stronger than his teammates and obviously more talented, and when coaches realized his potential, they went out of their way to get noticed by college teams.

“Going into his 11th grade, I knew he was different when I saw him drop 315 pounds,” he said. Anthony “Emp” DavisPike Road’s second coach and one of Judkins’ mentors.

Judkins played at a school that didn’t start playing football until 2015. The school began with students in grades seven through nine and added an extra grade each of the following years as the school grew. Trainer Patrick Browning was hired to develop a football program from middle school to junior high and finally high school. Browning’s superiors provided him with “a couple of rubber soccer balls” and he built weight racks near the barn where he kept the weights and quickly got to work with the young players. “We were going to do it and not let anything get in our way,” Browning said.

Browning focused on training players in the gym and developing good training habits before trying to outmaneuver opponents in winning games or end undefeated seasons with state championships. According to him, Judkins was a sponge and was constantly looking for additional guidance. “He doesn’t have many hobbies other than football,” Browning said. Judkins played on the run, but stayed after practice to work with defensive coaches and frequently sought treatment to rebuild his body from strenuous workouts. On holidays, he fed the homeless. “It’s like he’s been programmed, he’s on a mission, and he’s on course,” Smith said. “He had that factor.”

Meanwhile, Browning challenged his players. “I was probably a little taller than what your average JV or high school coach should be, so they were pushed a lot,” Browning said.

judkins parents, Quincy as well as Teva, attended training sessions and instilled good habits in their son. Teva works as a paralegal for a law firm in nearby Montgomery, while Quincy owns his own logistics company. They are respected and respected in society, but they are also a private family. They ignore phone calls and media reports, preferring not to speak up for their child or brag about their latest awards, though even that can be difficult at times. In a tweet in which Ole Miss touted Judkins’ October record-breaking pace, Teva said “prepare to witness his very true year”, prompting Kiffin to dwell on “rat poison”, a line made famous by Saban in Alabama and adopted by Kiffin, who urges players “trust the process”.

“We believe in the values ​​and principles of an organizational coach,” Teva Judkins said in response.

“I like it!” Kiffin replied.

Meanwhile, Judkins has been largely silent, both in public and in private. “The Judkins don’t want to be the center of attention other than to say, ‘Good job, let’s go and get to work,'” said Chuck Ledbetter, a former football coach and one of Judkins’ mentors during his time as Superintendent of Pike Road City School. “They don’t want him to be spoiled by success. They want him to keep his nose at the grindstone. This is what got him this far and they will keep going. That’s who they are.”

An interview request for Judkins via Ole Miss was denied for this story. Kiffin does not allow freshmen to interact with the media.

“He’s very calm, very quiet,” Kiffin said of Judkins. “The most unique (player) we had (at USC) was Troy Polamalu. He was incredible off the field. But then the switch went off and he just wanted to knock everyone out on the field. The ‘Q’ kind of reminds me of that. It’s neat. He was brought up very, very well.”

Judkins is good at a lot of things on the pitch, but what stands out is his quick jumps in the Rebels formation, which has resulted in some flashy runs where he stays untouched in tight spaces. In high school, he blossomed as a junior after coaches forced him to focus on hitting a defensive shoulder and running over him. He battered linebackers on offense that put him close to the quarterback, where he received direct snaps from the center on most of his carries. He missed time early in his senior years with a hamstring injury, but still rushed for 1,524 yards and 26 touchdowns in nine games, including 173 yards and three touchdowns in a 54–14 win (as an underdog) over Pleasant Grove in the state championship. .

Judkins was ranked as the 46th best running back as a 3-star prospect in the 247Sports Composite. In his home state, AL.com ranked him as the No. 11 player in Alabama. The lack of verified data on his speed (Judkins quit the circuit after his sophomore year) affected his 247Sports rankings. The 247Sports Scouting Council named him the country’s No. 53 in the class of 2022.

“Of course it’s amazing what he did and what we kept talking about backstage as the season progressed,” he said. Andrew Ivins, a recruiting analyst at 247Sports in the Southeast. “In the world of scouting, there will always be misses – that’s the nature of the beast. We returned to see what we might have missed. And to be honest, I don’t think we really missed out on much.”

His results in the ninth grade were the same as those of high school students enrolled in the FCS program.

“If we took a step back and approached Judkins with the idea that he is fast as a young man, would he have a fourth star next to his name? Possibly,” Ivins said.

Cooper Petagna, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports, says: “He’s a guy we’ve done a lot of homework on. The question mark for me was top speed. I can tell you right now that it was a mistake.”

Judkins’ production is stunning. He ranks in the top 10 in the nation in yards and touchdowns, ranking first in both categories among freshmen. He leads all players with 17 runs for 20 yards and is in sixth place with 74 slips, great proof of his incredible vision and hip movement.

“I think the higher you get in the competition, the less speed matters on the open field,” Ledbetter said.