2017 wasn't supposed to be a big year for the University at Buffalo's Emmanuel Reed.
Junior Johnathan Hawkins entered the season as the feature running back, coming off a 338-yard sophomore season as Jordan Johnson's backup. Reed was supposed to be a change of pace runner as he continued to get accustomed to the offense.
"During the offseason, you definitely train to be the guy ... but coming into the season I didn't think I'd have that many carries, that many reps," Reed said. "But in football, stuff happens."
Hawkins was injured in the middle of September, knocked out for the season. Suddenly, Reed needed to be a workhorse for an offense that lost its starting and backup quarterbacks in the following three weeks.
"It was definitely exciting," Reed said. "I was happy and nervous at the same time. ... This is why we play football. We want opportunities like that."
Early on, he stepped up big time. Reed surpassed the 100-yard mark three games in a row to close September. His best day came against Kent State, a 144-yard and three-touchdown performance.
"That's a testament to my o-line," Reed said. "We work hard as a core group together. ... We just want to make sure the run game is on point."
The season hasn't been without its speed bumps, though. Reed was injured in the Western Michigan game on Oct. 7, limited to just six reps. In the following two weeks, he was held under 60 yards in both games and out of the end zone.
"When you're taking all those shots and hits, something's bound to happen," Reed said. "I was just a little banged up."
As he's inched closer to 100 percent over the past three weeks, Reed has gotten things back on track. He rushed for 116 yards against Akron and 123 against Ball State, becoming the first UB back since Branden Oliver to have five 100-yard games in a season. He's run for 777 yards total, good for eighth in the MAC.
UB coach Lance Leipold said the struggles Reed experienced can benefit him going forward. Reed's learned how difficult it is to be a starting running back at the Division I level, both mentally and physically. Success isn't always a consistent upward trend.
"It was tough sledding in there for a little bit," Leipold said. "Missed reads, a little loss of confidence. To see him battle back and put these types of games together again is a great way to close out this regular season."
Reed also credits his return to form to the emergence of backup running back Theo Anderson. The new change of pace runner has totaled a combined 224 yards on the ground in the past two weeks.
"He's been stepping up so that's taken some of the load off of me," Reed said. "We're a good combo together."
As a coach, you never hope for injuries, but Hawkins' absence has helped set up UB at running back in the coming years. Hawkins earned a medical redshirt, meaning he, Reed and Anderson all have at least two years of eligibility remaining.
"Two years ago, we were one of if not the most inexperienced offenses in the country," Leipold said. "Now, we'll go into next year maybe being one of the most experienced. Hopefully that pays off."