SANTA CLARA (AP) — Carlos Hyde and Ohio State pal Braxton Miller might have quite the good-natured debate for a while: Who owns bragging rights for the season’s best spin move?
Hyde took a handoff from quarterback Colin Kaepernick and abruptly stopped before spinning hard to his left past Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen and going untouched for a diving 10-yard touchdown run Monday night. Miller, Hyde’s old college quarterback, had a snazzy spin of his own in the open field Sept. 7 against Virginia Tech that had jaws dropping across the nation.
Regardless of rankings on those highlight-reel turns, Hyde has instantly shown the San Francisco 49ers they have a reliable power runner to replace departed franchise rushing leader Frank Gore.
“It’s definitely a blessing to be in this position I’m in now,” Hyde said. “Just the whole atmosphere I feel like is different. It’s more of a brotherhood now. It kind of reminds me of Ohio State. ...
“I’m trying to keep my emotions down, trying to stay focused.”
Those emotions sent the second-year running back soaring up into the stands following his second touchdown in Monday’s 20-3 win against Minnesota, a 17-yard run. He leapt into the crowd to celebrate.
“The fans, they believe in us, so why not?” he said. “Cheer with them, too.”
Miller took notice of Hyde’s fancy footwork on his first TD run and posted on Twitter a graphic of a battery with a link to video of the scoring burst.
Hyde wound up with an NFL-best 168 yards for Week 1, tops by a 49ers running back since Gore rushed for 207 in Week 2 against Seattle in 2009.
“I think 160-plus speaks for itself,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team is responsible for slowing down Hyde this Sunday.
Hyde’s performance also ranked best by a 49ers running back in his first start with the team since 1970.
“He killed it. Wow,” Australian ex-rugby league star Jarryd Hayne said of his training camp roommate. “He’d been preparing for it.”
In 14 games coming off the bench as Gore’s backup, Hyde had 83 carries for 333 yards and four touchdowns with 12 receptions for 68 yards.
Now, he’s the No. 1 guy and wants the ball in his hands at every chance.
The coaches love that.
“I want to stay in the game,” Hyde said. “I feel like everything’s coming together. I feel way more comfortable in this offense than what I did last year and that’s because you have no choice, you’ve got to learn the plays. I feel really good this year.”
Hyde is a big reason the 49ers are 1-0 and presented the game ball to first-year coach Jim Tomsula. He got a nice assist from Kaepernick with a block in the end zone on his diving touchdown.
“I haven’t seen anything quite like that from him, but it was an amazing play by him,” Kaepernick said Thursday. “He got us that first touchdown and really got us the momentum for the rest of the game.”
A second-round draft pick last year out of Ohio State, Hyde’s Twitter handle is @elguapo — “the handsome one” in Spanish — and he posts messages such as “I love my grandma!” and “Family is everything.”
Hyde moved from Cincinnati to Naples, Florida, after his first year in high school to live with his grandparents and get on a better path. He gave his grandmother the game ball from his first career touchdown last year.
The soft-spoken Hyde credits his time around Gore for how he now takes better care of his body. Hyde dealt with a calf injury during the team’s offseason program.
“After I hurt my calf I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m doing whatever I have to do to make sure my legs are always fresh,’” he said. “I had to do that. I wasn’t always serious about taking care of my body. Frank is like a big brother to me. He looked after me, just showed me the ropes. Taking care of your body, that was one thing I paid attention to. Frank took really good care of his body.”
It gets tougher from here for Hyde now that opposing defenses have film to study of his breakout performance Monday. He will look to build off that Sunday at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field.
“I’ve been waiting for him to get the opportunity to run the ball that much,” 49ers linebacker Michael Wilhoite said. “I think Carlos will be a really good player in this league for a long time. He got to learn from the best for a whole year last year. When you learn from a guy like Frank Gore like I learned from Pat (Willis) and (NaVorro Bowman), you can only go one way.”