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Memphis star RB Kenneth Gainwell opts out of the 2020 season amid COVID-19 concerns, will focus on draft

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The Memphis offense will be without one of its most potent weapons in 2020 as running back Kenneth Gainwell is the latest player to opt out of the 2020 season. Gainwell’s father, Curtis Gainwell Sr., confirmed to the Memphis Commercial Appeal that the decision was made due to concerns about COVID-19 risks.

“He decided that he didn’t want take any chances with the coronavirus going on. You don’t want to to get out there and get sick and bring it to us, his brother or his teammates,” Gainwell Sr. said.

Gainwell’s father said they have lost four family members to COVID-19, including Kenneth Jr.’s uncle whose funeral was held over the weekend.

Gainwell exploded onto the scene for the Tigers in 2019. Patrick Taylor opened as the team’s primary back tasked with replacing Darrell Henderson (who rushed for over 1,900 yards in 2018), but he went down with an injury early in the season. In stepped Gainwell, and he never gave the job back while providing a significant boost for the Tigers on the ground and the passing game.

He rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns, leading the team in both categories while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. As if that wasn’t enough, only receiver Damonte Coxie finished with more receptions than Gainwell’s 51. Gainwell picked up another 610 yards and three touchdowns through the air.

Gainwell averaged 147.8 yards from scrimmage per game last season, ranking sixth nationally behind names like Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, and Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins just to name a few. Now he’ll be preparing for his future as an NFL back.

As for where Memphis will turn from here, it does have some capable options. Kylan Watkins carried the ball 62 times for 325 yards last season and will likely get an opportunity to lead the way to start the season.

Behind Watkins, there’s Rodrigues Clark, who rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown as a freshman last season. Clark has turned a lot of heads in practice this fall. He could be a darkhorse to grab the starting role. And then there’s Asa Martin, a four-star prospect in the 2018 class who initially enrolled at Auburn before transferring to Memphis. 

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