TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Willie Taggart and his staff entered Saturday’s Garnet and Gold Spring Game with a hunch that one of their running backs might have a night to remember.
This is not news in and of itself, given that in Cam Akers and Jacques Patrick, the Seminoles might boast one of the top rushing tandems in the nation.
But Taggart didn’t have either of those two in mind. Instead, his high hopes were for Khalan Laborn, the redshirt freshman who has plenty of talent and prep pedigree but had yet to make much of an impact on the collegiate stage.
That changed in a hurry Saturday. Effectively making his Doak Campbell Stadium debut, Laborn opened the scoring with a one-yard touchdown run, later added the highlight of the game with a 91-yard scoring scamper and finished with a game-high 140 yards on just 13 carries.
All of a sudden, Florida State’s two-headed running back monster might have sprouted a third.
“We all felt like he was going to have a big game tonight,” Taggart said. “Why? The kid is highly competitive, and he’s had a really good spring. We really thought he was going to be the guy to come in and have a heck of a spring game, and he did.”
The game was something of a vindication for Laborn, who, were it not for Akers, would have easily been the highest-profile running back in FSU’s recruiting class of 2017.
The Virginia Beach native was a consensus five-star prospect, the No. 1 all-purpose back per scouting services Rivals and 247Sports and a two-time prep All-American.
Even better, Laborn had his sights set on Florida State from early on in his high school career, and when it came time to announce his verbal commitment to the Seminoles, he arrived in a rented Lamborghini that was decked out in FSU decals.
With the Seminoles in need after the departure of Dalvin Cook, the stage seemed set for Laborn to make a quick impact.
But it didn’t work out that way. Akers, a fellow freshman and Laborn’s equal on the recruiting circuit, climbed the depth chart and had the breakout season that Laborn had envisioned for himself.
Laborn, meanwhile, redshirted while toiling with the scout team.
“It was frustrating,” Laborn said on Saturday night. “I don’t really talk about the past, but it was really frustrating, and I’m just glad we got a new coaching staff in to show what all of us can do. …
“I’m confident in my ability. I didn’t get an offer here for nothing.”
No, Laborn got an offer because of the power he showed when bursting through the line for his one-yard score.
He got an offer for the extra gear he found a few moments later, the one that allowed him to race more than 90 yards, untouched, to the end zone.
HE. MIGHT. TAKE. IT. ALL. THE. WAY!
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) April 15, 2018
And he got an offer for his durability, which he showed midway through the second quarter by carrying the ball on seven straight plays.
Those seven rushes went for 34 yards, and singlehandedly moved Laborn’s Garnet team into scoring position at the Gold’s 16-yard line.
“He’s an amazing football player,” senior defensive tackle Demarcus Christmas said. “Past years, going against him on scout-team, he’s a big-time player. And I was glad that he had the chance to go out and show it today. It didn’t surprise me that he did that. I see it every day in practice.”
“He’s very explosive,” junior defensive end Brian Burns added. “He makes plays that you wouldn’t expect.”
Or maybe that you wouldn’t have expected before.
With Laborn’s coming-out party in the books, expectations for FSU’s rushing attack – already high with the return of Akers and Patrick – might have reached another level.
Each of those three could be a starter in most schools across America, and, along with speedy junior Amir Rasul, form a stable of backs that rivals any in college football.
“He’s had a really good spring,” Taggart said of Laborn. “He’s a good football player, and I’ll tell you what, I’m really proud of the kid because he’s grown up big time and he’s maturing, slowly but surely. And I think today is going to just add on to what he can do for us.”