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CFF Series - The Resurgence of 'Big Play Peny'
A former Detroit High School Football legend, Toledo's Peny Boone is having a renaissance season in the MAC.
It’s not that hard to gain 35 pounds over the summer, if you hit the gym real hard…
- James Caan, The Program (1993)
While James Caan (RIP) is most famously known for his role as Sonny Corleone in the classic movie ‘The Godfather’, one of my favourite roles from his has always been the steel-eyed, morally ambiguous football coach he plays in what is widely regarded as one of the best College Football movies of all time ‘The Program’.
The quote above derives from a scene where Caan and his assistant coaches are observing one of their defensive ends, Steve ‘Latts’ Lattimer, pump iron after a gruelling practice. While the rest of the team is in full recovery mode, Lattimer is absolutely crushing it in the weight room. The assistants remark that Latts — a career special teamer up to that point — has had a tremendous body transformation in a short of amount of time, raising some suspicions regarding the means of how he’s achieved such progress.
Caan comes into the office and notices this, and assures his assistants that acquiring a fresh coating of 35 pounds of pure muscle in one summer isn’t really that hard, you know… as long as you hit the gym real hard.
What ensues over the next few games for the fictional ‘ESU’ program is a defensive masterclass, with Latts on the EDGE and Alvin Mack on the inside unloading a can of whop-ass early and often on all unsuspecting foes.
It’s true, massive body transformations are not that uncommon in the realm of CFB. When you’re talking about 18-22 year old kids, who are potentially learning about diet and nutrition for the first time in their lives upon stepping on campus, or hitting the gym with a renewed focus in a hyper competitive environment, remarkable things do tend to happen.
But not all body transformations are positive ones. That was the case for today’s player—Peny Boone, who ballooned up to 245+ pounds, adding more than 20 pounds of bad weight from the time that he played his senior year in high school at Detroit powerhouse Martin Luther King High. For those unaware, his current QB—De’Quan Finn, is also an alumnus of MLK high. So is former five-star and UCLA QB Dante Moore.
Boone had the opposite problem that Steve ‘Latts’ Lattimer had. His playing weight was at an all time low (well, I guess I should say ‘high’) while playing for the Maryland Terps in 2020 and 2021. His performance suffered as a result. He redshirted in his freshman season, playing in four games, and rushing for a total of 86 yards. His second season was a (slightly) more fruitful campaign. In 2021 he rushed for 172 yards and 2 TDs on 39 carries, playing in 10 games overall. I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that that probably wasn’t the start Peny was hoping for in his CFB career.
Toledo Resurgence 2022-Present
Originally a three/four star recruit out of the Detroit metro area, Peny is no stranger to the midwest. Evidently, he decided to move closer to home after a disappointing two years at Maryland. Many in the CFF community — who were looking for the Bryant Koback replacement — were excited about what Boone could do at a lower level of play when he moved to Toledo. Dare I say, the move to the MAC was expected to be a ‘boon’ for Boone’s production? OK, that one was just too easy…
But apparently I’m not the only one reaching for low hanging fruit. After another disappointing year in 2022, evidently Boone decided it was time for change if he was ever going to be a workhorse tailback. He cleaned up his diet in the 2023 offseason, and he entered the season at weight consistent with his high school playing days—around 225 pounds. Sporting a taller stature, Boone wears 225 pounds fairly seamlessly, and looks much better this season.
It would appear that the hard work in the offseason is paying off. Boone is off to a very strong start to 2023. He currently averages just shy of 20 FPG in 1-ppr formats, and has seen 15 or more touches in five straight games. And with nothing but MAC opponents left on the schedule, his dominance is probably going to continue.
Recently, his QB offered some thoughts on Boone’s body transformation this offseason:
He looks like high school Peny again. I'm happy to have him with me in the backfield. He’s going to run that ball, and he’s going to run it downhill. He doesn’t care who’s in front of him, he’s going to run the ball. Having that type of running back behind me relieves a lot of stress.
His head coach Jason Candle was also complimentary on Boone earlier this season:
Sometimes transfers think they just turn the page and it’s going to be a different story. If your same habits follow you, it’s a bad experience. Credit to him for really taking care of himself and paying attention to the details that are necessary for him to be the best player he can be. We all understand that if he does that he’s a special kid.
But he is not an uncontested volume pig (UVP). Primarily, he shares rushing touches with his QB De’Quan Finn, who is a notorious TD bandit. Fellow RB Jacquez Stuart also remains involved, but has clearly been relegated to the backseat in the last two weeks (six and eight carries only in the last two games).
Candle was asked about the backfield split back in September, and provided some insight into how he feels about the rotation:
Peny has worked really hard . . . He’s also in a very competitive room with a lot of talent. I always get asked during the offseason, ‘Who’s the running back?’ It sorts itself out. We have to continue to develop.
There’s going to be a game where he’s going to have to get 18 or 20 [carries] . . . I think he understood and saw the light that if he was going to be the potential guy he had to really work
Seems like Candle was understating Boone’s role in that last quote. As mentioned above, Boone’s been a pretty consistent workhorse for them, especially in the last four games.
Even though Boone is in his fourth year of CFB, it’s possible he could return next year. Stuart is currently in his fifth year, and may leave for greener pastures if the writing is on the wall. Finn still has eligibility left for one more season (as far as I can tell, at least), and has had an up and down year, making it not unlikely that he returns.
The prospect of Boone returning in 2024 does raise an interesting question: where would he be valued in CFF? To shed light on this, we probably need to take a closer look at the coaching and system at Toledo.
Coaching & System
Head coach Jason Candle has been with the Toledo Football program in some capacity since 2009(!). However, he originally began his career in coaching at Division II(?) school Mount Union as the receivers coach in 2002. In 2015 he was finally promoted to head coach of Toledo, after serving four seasons as the OC.
During his time as play caller with the Rockets (2012-2022), Candle’s RB1 went over 1000 yards seven times out of 10 seasons (excluding the COVID season). It should be noted too, that some of those RBs still went over 1000 yards total in seasons where they didn’t surpass that mark on the ground (e.g., Kareem Hunt in 2015).
2021: Bryant Koback — 208-1408-15 (att-yds-tds)
2019: Bryant Koback — 195-1187-12
2017: Terry Swanson — 242-1363-14
2016: Kareem Hunt — 262-1475-10
2014: Kareem Hunt — 205-1631-16
2013: David Fluellen — 167-1121-10
2012: David Fluellen — 259-1498-13
But something that’s also clear about Candle’s play calling is there’s usually at least one other runner heavily involved. Candle’s RB2 averaged 115.2 carries per season between 2012 and 2022 (excluding COVID year). His RB1s have gone over 1000 yards frequently, but they don’t necessarily see a a huge amount of carries (only two on that list seeing more than 250). I guess that’s pretty par with what we’re seeing this season, with Stuart as the RB1B type of player.
Something to also note is that Candle’s RBs who have surpasses 1000 yards usually do it twice. I guess that’s something to keep in mind with Boone, if he returns next year.
As far as valuation, even Bryant Koback was available in the fifth or sixth rounds of CFF drafts in 2021 after a strong showing in 2020 despite limited games. Let’s say Boone goes for 1000 yards this season, and all three of himself, Finn and Stuart returns, that’s probably the range I’d value him too. If both Finn and Stuart leave, then Boone is potentially a top three round type of player.
Anyway, there’s still a long way to go on that front. For now, I’m just enjoying watching 'Big Play Peny’ rumble through the MAC.
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