In 2020, redshirt freshman running back Kelvin Dean Jr. [photo center, 21] was 8th on the depth chart, with only had nine carries for 44 yards, while averaging just 2.3 yards per attempt over nine games. Now, through five games, he managed to more than double his yards total from last year to 111, adding his first two career touchdowns in the process. he also finds himself in the regular rotation.
Dean attributes Florida Atlantic's Montgomery Bowl loss against Memphis last year, where he had five carries for 16 yards and a reception, as what helped him adjust to the college game.
"Last season I only played a little bit, but I played a lot against Memphis and it helped me adjust to the game speed and the physicality," Dean said. "So, this offseason I went into the weight room and focused on certain things that I know I would need, so this summer I wanted to make sure I had my reads down pat and that the game wasn't too fast for me. Now everything is slowed and I can play how I need to play to be comfortable."
FAU head coach Willie Taggart saw Dean's improvement over the offseason and gave him more chances through fall camp and in practice.
"In practice, one thing that held him back from playing time was just taking care of the football, and he's done a tremendous job this training camp and this fall of getting better with taking care of the football," Taggart said. "I think he's earned the right to see more [playing time] and I think we'll see more and more and more of him if he keeps playing the way he did the other night."
The night Taggart was referring to was Sept. 18 against Fordham. He had his first real shot at playing time that night and he took full advantage of it. Rushing for 74 yards on nine carries, Dean reached the end zone for the first time in his career on a two-yard run. He led all Owls rushers in yards in their 35-14 win over the Rams.
The fourth quarter of that game in particular was where Dean made the magic happen. Coach Taggart went up to Dean on the sideline and told him "make the fourth quarter yours" and sure enough, he did. Dean gained a total of 82 yards on eight carries in that fourth quarter, including a drive where he collected all 52 yards on a six-play touchdown drive.
"I was like 'let's make it happen, I gotta make the most of my opportunities and I finally got down there and scored a touchdown for the first time of my career and it felt good," Dean said. "Just seeing my parents and my family smiling and being happy warmed my heart."
Every part of Dean's journey has been for his family and coming from Rickards High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., they've been there to watch every part of Kelvin's road to where he is now.
"I came a long way, I remember my freshman year I was running back number eight on the depth chart," Dean said. "Now, being one of the guys that's in the rotation, it means a lot. My parents saw me come a long way and I really do it for my family."
With his family in the stands again, Dean put on a show in one of South Florida's biggest college football stages: the Shula Bowl. Against rival FIU, Dean had five carries for 37 yards and a touchdown to help FAU win its fifth straight against the Panthers by the score of 58-21.
"I'm just making strides, trying to help the team and be important to the team," Dean said following his Shula Bowl performance. "I'm happy about that and coach is giving me an opportunity to show what I can do."
As is this case with many incoming players, Dean also sees time on special teams, something that has directly contributed to his development at running back .
"Kelvin is always ready and when he gets in the game he shows that," Taggart said. "I do think it helps that he's playing on special teams, so he sees the speed of the game and it helps him bring his game up when he's in at running back."
Dean recalls playing time dating back to his freshman year when coaches told him that special teams would get him on the field at the back position. Something that he used for motivation.
"I took that seriously, I started on three special teams, so it secured my spot on the travel roster," Dean said. "No matter what, I know I have a chance to play in the running back room based on how I perform on special teams."
The hard work paid off for Dean, who now sees himself as a key member of a loaded Florida Atlantic running back room heading down the stretch in their conference schedule.
"I just want to be who I know I am, he said. "I want to see myself being more of a team player, I want to inspire my teammates to go harder, and also congratulating my o-line when I score a touchdown. Those guys deserve it, they work hard."