Riptide’s Reflections | Spearheading the offense

Mark Keplinger and Jeremy Rosen

tyjae spears
Courtesy of Parker Waters

Riptide’s Reflections is The Tulane Hullabaloo’s weekly column talking all things Tulane football. Join us every Wednesday for in-depth coverage, analysis and opinion of the Green Wave.

Tyjae Spears is almost certainly the best offensive weapon the Green Wave have at their disposal. The running back proved as much when he scored three touchdowns in Tulane’s 42-10 drubbing of the Massachusetts Minutemen.

A 5 foot, 11 inch redshirt junior out of Ponchatoula, Louisiana, it was a long and arduous road before Spears became the offensive mainstay he is now. He is a fast, dynamic and explosive back who is a threat in both the run and passing games. He can shake off tackles, hit the holes the offensive lines give him with speed and power and is a crispy runner with his cuts.

The UMass game was simply a reminder of what Spears is capable of. In the first drive of the game, almost the entire offense seemed to revolve around him as he quickly darted into gaps, giving the visitors all they could handle. One play, he showed his skill in the second quarter when the back caught a dump off pass in the backfield. He sped past several defenders and evaded others before being brought down after a 27-yard gain.

One can see the impact he has on this team just by listening to the coaches and players surrounding him, all of whom are full of praise. After Saturday’s victory, quarterback Michael Pratt said about Spears’ return, “It was awesome. Just his enthusiasm, his knowledge of the game, his communication is really good. You know it was great to have him out there, it got the guys fired up. He made some great plays, three touchdowns tonight so I’m super happy for him.”

“He’s a really tough, hard nosed competitor. He comes to practice every single day, enjoys it, just really loves football. And it’s just good to see a guy, I mean it was a long time rehab for him … so it’s good to see the guy having this success with all the things he had to overcome,” head coach Willie Fritz said.

It has been a long road for Spears, from climbing the depth chart to dealing with a tough rehab from a torn ACL. In 2019, the back was far down the depth chart, with only 32 carries over four games for 192 yards. The next season looked promising for him, especially after good games against South Alabama and Navy, but Spears tore his ACL against Southern Mississippi which took him out for the season.

In the beginning of the 2021, Spears was used sparingly through the first five games, where he did not have more than six touches in a single game. However, the back half of season was a different story, as he proved to be one of the few bright spots in a lost campaign. He had over 100 yards rushing in four games, including going for 264 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the season finale against the Memphis Tigers.

tyjae spears
Courtesy of Parker Waters

Speaking after the UMass game, Spears said “It’s been a long process, and in the spring, I pulled my hamstring real bad … My confidence was kinda down, but I got a great coach to motivate me and I got some of the best teammates in the world … How am I not gonna run hard for them?” The back always remains humble when talking and gives great thanks to the trainers for helping with his rehab, his coaches and his teammates. It’s easy to see why his teammates and coaches speak so highly of him.

In terms of future strategy, Fritz said, “Gone are the days where guys carry 30 times a game for the whole season … we want [Spears] somewhere around 10-15 carries a game, and have him play 12-14 games.” Despite knowing how good his running back is, Fritz also emphasizes how good all of the running backs are, and does not want to overload one player with all the carries.

If Tulane is to have success this season, then expect Spears to play a large part in it, as he has shown how important of a player he is to this team.