McFad­den’s fame

The Ra­zor­backs’ all-time rush­ing leader gains early en­try into ASOF.

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - TOM MUR­PHY

Sixth in a se­ries pro­fil­ing the nine new­est mem­bers of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame. In­duc­tion cer­e­monies will be held March 3 at the State­house Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.

FAYET­TEVILLE — Ask a Univer­sity of Arkansas Ra­zor­backs foot­ball fan to choose a fa­vorite Dar­ren McFad­den mo­ment, but don’t nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect the same an­swer.

McFad­den, who will be in­ducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame on Fri­day, is the Univer­sity of Arkansas at Fayet­teville all-time lead­ing rusher (4,590 yards), the SEC’s No. 2 all-time lead­ing rusher and a two-time Heis­man Tro­phy run­nerup and will be the hall’s youngest ac­tive foot­ball in­ductee.

“Just think about it, there’s a lot of peo­ple who may not go in un­til their 40s or even their 50s,” said McFad­den, who has spent the past nine sea­sons in the Na­tional Foot­ball League. “As a guy who’s go­ing to be 30 in Au­gust, I’m look­ing for­ward to it. It shows what my fans and my peers think of me in the state of Arkansas.”

McFad­den loved his home state enough to have “501 boy,” a trib­ute to his area code, tat­tooed onto his bi­ceps, “Arkansas bred” inked onto his stom­ach, a Ra­zor­back break­ing through the A on his right shoul­der and an in­ter­lock­ing “LR” for Lit­tle Rock cov­er­ing much of his back dur­ing his stay in Fayet­teville.

The SEC was McFad­den’s play­ground for three years from 2005 through 2007, and his No. 5 jersey was worn by thou­sands of Arkansas chil­dren, and he re­paid the adu­la­tion of the home­s­tate fans with mas­sive games and un­for­get­table mo­ments.

There was the reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale his ju­nior year, when he led the Ra­zor­backs to a 50-48 up­set of No. 1 LSU in Ba­ton Rouge, with 206 rush­ing yards, 34 pass­ing yards and 4 touch­downs, much of it coming out of the Wild Hog for­ma­tion, be­fore a na­tional tele­vi­sion au­di­ence on the day af­ter Thanks­giv­ing.

Then there was McFad­den’s 321 rush­ing yards, ty­ing the SEC sin­gle-game record, in a 48-36 vic­tory over South Carolina that same sea­son. And his 181 rush­ing yards and first big break­out per­for­mance in the Wild Hog in a 31-14 vic­tory over Ten­nessee with ESPN GameDay on cam­pus in 2006.

Don’t for­get about his 190 rush­ing yards and two

touch­downs against Ge­or­gia as a true fresh­man. Or his 219 rush­ing yards and two touch­downs against South Carolina as a sopho­more.

In his only game against a Nick Sa­ban de­fense at Alabama in 2007, McFad­den ran 33 times for 195 yards and 3 touch­downs. He put the Ra­zor­backs on his back in a rally from a 31-10 deficit into a 3831 lead be­fore a con­cus­sion knocked him from the game.

McFad­den played af­ter ma­jor surgery on his toe be­fore his sopho­more sea­son and played through torn car­ti­lage in his ribcage as a ju­nior. His 4,590 rush­ing yards ranks be­hind Her­schel Walker’s 5,259 in the SEC record books.

McFad­den has his fa­vorite mo­ment.

“I’ve got to go with LSU, when they were No. 1 in the coun­try and we went down and beat them in triple over­time,” McFad­den said. “That’s got to be my No. 1 game of all time.”

McFad­den strolled into the back­ground of Coach Hous­ton Nutt’s on-field in­ter­view with CBS that day with a mini base­ball bat in his hand, say­ing “We got that wood right here!” to which Nutt im­plored ESPN an­a­lysts Lou Holtz and Mark May to “Put him in the Heis­man!”

Nutt quickly iden­ti­fies that game as his fa­vorite McFad­den mem­ory.

“He played such a role and he was the ul­ti­mate team­mate,”

Nutt said. “With him on the di­rect snap, he could hand it to his team­mates or he could throw it to Pey­ton Hil­lis or Mar­cus Monk, or he could run it. He was just a triple threat.”

There are many in UA cir­cles who con­sider McFad­den the best player to ever strap on shoul­der pads for the Ra­zor­backs and among the best to ev­ery play col­lege foot­ball.

“I hear that all the time, but like I say, I just looked at it like I was go­ing out there and play­ing foot­ball,” McFad­den said. “I never thought about the num­bers and the stats when I was go­ing through it and do­ing it.

“It’s a great honor to even be held in that con­ver­sa­tion when peo­ple bring up some of the best foot­ball play­ers of all time. It’s a great honor.”

McFad­den, a two- time All-Amer­i­can and two-time Doak Walker Award win­ner as the na­tion’s best run­ning back, can laugh about his Heis­man run­ner-up cam­paigns to Ohio State quar­ter­back Troy Smith in 2006 and Florida quar­ter­back Tim Te­bow in 2007, but it’s still a sore sub­ject.

“I def­i­nitely be­lieve I should have got­ten one of them,” McFad­den said. “Af­ter my sopho­more year, when Troy Smith won, ev­ery­body was say­ing, like, sopho­mores don’t win it. They don’t win it.

“I’m like, OK, I un­der­stand it. Then turn around my ju­nior year and I lost it to a sopho­more, then I was just com­pletely baf­fled. I can’t take any­thing from Te­bow. He had a heck of a year and he put up

great num­bers. But I def­i­nitely feel like I should have won one of those Heis­mans, if not both.”

McFad­den was the only dou­ble Heis­man Tro­phy run­ner up un­til Stan­ford quar­ter­back An­drew Luck re­peated the feat in 2010 and 2011.

“What sep­a­rated him was just his size and his speed and strength,” said Dean We­ber, the Arkansas trainer dur­ing McFad­den’s col­lege ca­reer and a long-time friend. “He was sup­posed to be the best thing since sliced bread coming up here and he proved it in three years.”

McFad­den shared a back­field with Pey­ton Hil­lis and close friend Felix Jones, with whom he posted tan­dem 1,000-yard rush­ing sea­sons in 2006 and 2007. His ac­tiv­i­ties

with Jones in­clud­ing them dress­ing up as Fred Flint­stone and Barney Rub­ble for Hal­loween in 2007.

Nutt said some of his fa­vorite McFad­den sto­ries came from fel­low coaches like Ur­ban Meyer and Sa­ban. Once, at the SEC spring meet­ings in Destin, Fla., Nutt said Meyer told him he used film of McFad­den on spe­cial teams to in­struct his play­ers.

Nutt said Meyer showed his team a play of McFad­den block­ing for Jones on a kick­off re­turn, run­ning full speed to knock a de­fender on his back.

“We stop it there and say, ‘This is what an All-Amer­ica does,’ ” Nutt said Meyer told him. “He’s very un­selfish. He’s not wor­ried about get­ting the ball. Most peo­ple would take the play off, but he didn’t.”

McFad­den said that kind of play epit­o­mized how he wanted to be known.

“I’m not one of those meme-me guys. Give me the ball. Let me do this,” McFad­den said. “I’m a team guy. What­ever I can do to help my team win in what­ever way, that’s what I’m go­ing to do.

“Me and Felix were great bud­dies, so that made it even bet­ter to be out there block­ing for some­one that was one of your best friends on the team.”

Pu­laski Oak Grove Coach John Mayes rec­og­nized the po­ten­tial in McFad­den af­ter the young­ster made phe­nom­e­nal im­prove­ment head­ing into his sopho­more sea­son in 2002.

“I put him right on Arkansas that next sum­mer with Danny [Nutt]. He said, ‘Coach, we’ve got to have him.’ He was just a man amongst boys. Plus, he had a love for the game. He wanted to gain ev­ery­thing he could from it. He took all the cor­rec­tions pos­i­tively.”

Tim Hor­ton took over as Arkansas run­ning backs coach in 2007 af­ter McFad­den led the SEC with 1,647 rush­ing yards the previous year.

“He was ev­ery­thing that I had heard and then some,” Hor­ton said. “When you’re the re­turn­ing run­ner-up for the Heis­man Tro­phy and you get a new po­si­tion coach, I was just so im­pressed with his will­ing­ness to learn and his will­ing­ness to be a teach­able player. He had a great, great work ethic. He was ob­vi­ously as gifted a player as the school’s ever had.”

Hor­ton said, “I don’t know how you could put any­body in

front of him” in the dis­cus­sion of great­est Arkansas foot­ball player of all time.

“Oh, with­out ques­tion,” Nutt said. “With­out ques­tion he should be in that con­ver­sa­tion.”

McFad­den’s dura­bil­ity in col­lege, which in­cluded no missed games de­spite his var­i­ous in­juries, did not trans­late to the NFL af­ter he was taken by the Oak­land Raiders with the No. 4 pick of the 2008 NFL Draft.

He has played only two 16-game sea­sons in his nine year ca­reer due to a va­ri­ety of in­juries, with two 1,000-yard sea­sons. He rushed for 1,157 yards and 7 touch­downs and had 1,664 yards from scrim­mage for the Raiders in 2010, his best year as a pro, then de­liv­ered 1,089 rush­ing yards in his first year with the Dal­las Cow­boys in 2015.

“That was very sat­is­fy­ing be­cause I knew I still had that in me,” McFad­den said of his 2015 per­for­mance. “It was just a mat­ter of fall­ing into the right sit­u­a­tion and get­ting the right help around me. When I got to Dal­las, that’s some­thing they did. They have a phe­nom­e­nal of­fen­sive line here.”

McFad­den suf­fered a bro­ken el­bow prior to last sea­son and was lim­ited to 87 rush­ing yards in four games as rookie Ezekiel El­liott took over as the lead run­ning back. He is a free agent start­ing in March.

“My body is still pretty fresh and I don’t feel like I’ve missed a step now,” he said. “I’m like a diesel engine. They get over 100,000 miles.”

Photo il­lus­tra­tion/NIKKI DAWES

SEC CA­REER RUSH­ING YARDS LEAD­ERS TOP 5 1. Her­schel Walker 5,259 (Ge­or­gia) 2. Dar­ren McFad­den 4,590 (Arkansas) 3. Kevin Faulk 4,557 (LSU) 4. Bo Jack­son 4,303 (Auburn) 5. Er­rict Rhett 4,163 (Florida)


NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/ANDY SHUPE

Dar­ren McFad­den (right) left the Univer­sity of Arkansas in 2007 as the Ra­zor­backs’ all-time lead­ing rusher with 4,590 yards, which also ranks sec­ond-best ever in the SEC be­hind Her­schel Walker’s ca­reer mark of 5,259.

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