Pairing up a power back with a receiving back is a popular football strategy used to keep defenses off-balance with a change of pace. When you look around the NFL today, you see many running back combinations that are similar to UConn’s. The Patriots have Sony Michel and James White, the Titans have Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis and the Texans have Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson Jr.
The Huskies have Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins.
UConn’s offense largely relies on two tailbacks to be the focal point of their offense. Mensah and Thompkins have specific sets of skills that help them complement each other within the offense.
Head coach Randy Edsall utilized former quarterback David Pindell’s speed out of the backfield next to Mensah last season. Now with less mobile pocket passers under center, Edsall has instead opted to roll with two running backs who can do different things on the field.
Mensah is a big, strong running back who is the most comfortable putting his head down and running full speed through holes between the tackles. Thompkins, being a smaller, quicker back, is effective carrying the ball on outside runs like stretches and pitches, while also receiving passes out of the backfield.
“People call us lightning and thunder,” Mensah said.
While Thompkins’ game is more about getting the ball in space and making tacklers miss, Mensah’s is more about getting behind blockers and running through tacklers.
“They’re different on the field. Kevin is more powerful, so some things you do with Kevin you aren’t going to do with Art,” Edsall said.
Through three games this season, Mensah has carried the ball 60 times for 205 yards and two touchdowns. Thompkins has carried the ball 32 times for 125 yards and a score. Thompkins, also active in the passing game, leads the Huskies in receptions with nine for a gain of 51 yards.
Mensah, who has just one catch for two yards this season, said that Thompkins is a teammate that he loves to use as a role model.
“He can do everything. He’s like a big brother to me and he makes me want to work on my game too,” Mensah said.
After redshirting his freshman season at the University of Toledo, Thompkins played there for three seasons. After his third season, in which he was a captain on Toledo’s offense, he transferred to UConn.
“I’m one of the oldest guys on the team, and I’ve been a captain at Toledo before so I know how to lead what the coaches expect from me as a fifth-year transfer,” Thompkins said.
“Art, being the guy that he is, he’s very humble. That makes me want to be humble too, and makes me want to work harder,” Mensah said.
Thompkins, being a graduate student, is one of just 12 graduate students, seniors or redshirt seniors on the team. The Huskies are young, so having guys that are comfortable stepping into leadership roles is crucial to the team’s growth.
“Whether I was a veteran or a freshman, I have leadership qualities from being the oldest with two younger brothers and a single mother,” Thompkins said. “I got those traits early on in my life so it comes as second nature to me.”
Mensah and Thompkins aren’t only great teammates on the field, but away from the game of football they are really good friends.
“I see two guys that complement each other, are supportive of each other and each understand their roles,” Edsall said.
According to both Mensah and Thompkins, their relationship is so close, it’s like they’re brothers.
“That’s my brother, first and foremost, I love that kid to death. Great player, even better person,” Thompkins said. “We talk a lot off the field, every once in awhile we’re at each others’ places hanging out and playing video games.”
According to Mensah, their games of choice are Fortnite and Call of Duty.
“We’re like brothers,” Mensah said. We do everything together, we text, we’re right next to each other in the locker room, we listen to music and just do whatever. He’s family, our relationship off the field is perfect.”
A lot of times when two guys play the same position, it’s easy to imagine that there’s some sort of competition between the players. But with Mensah and Thompkins, they couldn’t be any more supportive of each other and they take pride in helping with one another’s growth.
“They are very supportive and all they want to help their teammates achieve success and win,” Edsall said.
Having two guys that get along is great, but having two talented players in the backfield who call themselves brothers is extraordinary and fosters a positive team culture.
The next time you can see these two backs in action is this Saturday at 7 p.m. against UCF in Orlando. The game will be broadcast on ESPN2.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.