Maryland transfer lightens up, assumes heavier load as Vik

by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY - Junior DJ Adams has become a leading rusher for Portland State after just two games. The Vikings play Washington at 1 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.Portland State’s DJ Adams grew up with music. His father, Alan, who makes his living working for Honda, is a jazz pianist. Adams’ mother, Karen, was a music major at the University of Arkansas and taught piano lessons out of the family home.

Adams can hardly remember a time when he did not know how to play piano.

“It’s been in my family and my bloodline,” he says.

Adams often asks himself how much playing the piano relates to being a running back.

“Playing by ear, there’s correlation — being able to pick up on things and having fast reactions,” he says.

This year, Adams is faster on the football field than ever. At 5-10, 210 pounds, he is still a bruiser. But, since transferring from the University of Maryland, he has lost about 13 pounds and developed the speed that, along with his strength, has made him Portland State’s primary runner.

“I’m growing into my body and evolving as a running back,” he says.

In his final two years at Norcross (Ga.) High, Adams rushed for a total of 3,046 yards (6.6 per carry) and 25 touchdowns. He was ranked the No. 16 running back in the nation by and No. 29 by

After redshirting his first year at Maryland, he was used primarily in short-yardage situations. Adams scored a team-high 11 touchdowns his first season, compiling 239 yards on 67 rushes. In the Military Bowl against East Carolina, he set a Maryland bowl record with four rushing TDs.

Adams loved being Maryland’s big back and charging through the line to pick up however many yards were needed for a first down or touchdown.

“I grew to really embrace it,” he says. “To get on the field in college, you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Adams’ sophomore season did not go nearly as well. He took only 40 handoffs, gained 174 yards and scored four touchdowns.

After a coaching change at Maryland, he decided to look at other schools.

“When the staff changes, everything changes,” Adams says. “It got to the point where there were no hard feelings, but it’s just part of the business. When things change and the reasons why you came there in the first place are no longer there, it’s time to move on.”

For him, deciding where to transfer was more difficult than choosing a college out of high school. He looked at other top Division I schools, but going to one of them would have required him to sit out a season. Playing right away was important to him.

“You know your body and your career and where it can go, and what you want to do or not do,” he says. “Portland State ended up being the best place. I loved the staff, I loved the guys.”

The Vikings, with former feature back Cory McCaffrey, had showed they could run the ball successfully out of coach Nigel Burton’s pistol offense.

“What brought DJ here is a tribute to what the offense has done the last two years,” offensive coordinator Bruce Barnum says. “He saw the opportunities Cory had and knew he was going to get a chance to run the football.”

The PSU coaches planned on using Adams as the thunder alongside the lightning of smaller backs such as Shaquille Richard. But Adams has showed some of his own lightning for the 1-1 Viks. He has team highs of 30 carries, 226 yards and three TDs.

“He’s been great,” Barnum says. “I can’t say surprising, because we knew he was good. But he’s a spark. He’s been more productive than I thought he was going to be.”

Heading into Saturday’s 1 p.m. road game with Washington, Adams says the level of play and competition isn’t that much different at Portland State than it was at Maryland.

“Yeah, you may talk (more)about fans or publicity. But that’s only appealing to some student-athletes,” he says. “As far as the actual ball that happens between the lines, it’s the same. There’s not much of a difference at all in my mind. I’m playing football.”

Adams still loves running between the tackles in short-yardage situations. But, as with playing the piano, sometimes faster is better.

“Being an every-down guy and a full game-type guy, you’ve got to be lighter,” he says. “It’s a matter of evolving as a player.”

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