|All-time rushing leader didn't see Chadron State's Woodhead coming|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 03 October 2007 10:59|
``I believe Tony Dorsett was the first to go over 6,000 yards, and folks thought that record would stand a long time,'' said Bowers, who set the NCAA record from 1997-2000 at Division III Grove City (Pa.) College. ``I go over 7,000, and here is another gentleman who is going to top that.''
Danny Woodhead of Chadron State last week joined Bowers as the only players to top 7,000 yards rushing in college football. If Woodhead runs for 121 yards for the Division II Eagles against Western New Mexico on Saturday, he'll pass Bowers' mark of 7,353.
``I thought it might stand for a long time,'' Bowers said. ``I guess six years is a long time.''
Bowers said he didn't know his record was being threatened until this past summer, when a couple friends pointed out a newspaper article about a guy in remote western Nebraska who was getting close.
``They started ribbing me about it,'' Bowers said.
Woodhead, who won the 2006 Harlon Hill Trophy as the outstanding player in Division II, was just as clueless about the record-holder. A friend told him about Bowers in August.
Woodhead's run for the record has brought unprecedented exposure for undefeated Chadron State, whose best-known football alum is former Buffalo Bills and Green Bay Packers receiver Don Beebe. The unassuming Woodhead has taken it all in stride and deflects credit to his teammates and coaches.
``It hasn't affected me, the way I approach the game or play the game,'' said Woodhead, who last year set an all-division single-season record with 2,756 yards rushing. ``The attention doesn't bother me one way or the other.''
Woodhead had no Division I offers when he was coming out of North Platte (Neb.) High. He was 5-foot-8 and 175 pounds at the time, and judged to be too small.
Like Woodhead, Bowers played far away from the sport's mainstream. Both sometimes wonder what would have happened if they had played at bigger schools.
Bowers did have a scholarship offer from Akron, but instead chose to play baseball in the Houston Astros organization after high school. He didn't start his college career until age 23, and he chose Grove City because it was close to his hometown of West Middlesex, Pa.
Bowers said he was interested in getting his degree in business management, but discovered he had four years' eligibility if he wanted to use them.
``I thought, 'What the heck,''' Bowers said.
At 6 feet and 250 pounds, he ran over and through small-college defenders. On Oct. 28, 2000, he scored on a 1-yard run to break the record of 6,958 yards by Brian Shay of Division II Emporia State from 1995-98.
After college, Bowers signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers. He never played a down for them, but he appeared in eight games for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns from 2001-03, running 18 times for 87 yards and scoring two touchdowns.
Then he and his wife returned to western Pennsylvania, where they are raising their two young children and R.J., now 33, runs a trucking company.
Bowers said running for 7,000 career yards not only requires toughness and durability, but good fortune.
Bowers broke his leg in the second half of the final game in 1998. Had he sustained the same injury the first week of the season, he said, he wouldn't have had a shot at the record.
Woodhead's only health issue was a back problem that required rehabilitation during spring practice two years ago. He's averaged 27 carries and 190 yards over 38 career games, playing through the bumps and bruises that come with being a marked man by opposing defenses.
``You're going to get helmets to the arms and legs,'' Woodhead said. ``It may not always be something horrible. It's just those annoying aches and pains and bruises.''
Athletic director Brad Smith, the former Chadron head coach who previously was an assistant at Western Illinois, said he's sure Woodhead's record will be downplayed in some quarters because he piled up the yardage in Division II - like Bowers did in Division III.
``A lot of Division I tailbacks,'' Smith said, ``would have trouble gaining as many yards as they did against air.''
Woodhead, who has 889 yards through Chadron State's first five games, could stretch the record past 8,000 yards if he meets his season average of 174 yards in the last six regular-season games.
Maybe that mark will stand a little longer than the last one.
``I always said that one day I would sit down and really look back and reflect, but I really haven't,'' Bowers said. ``I had a great time setting those records and having the camaraderie with my teammates. People move on, people change and records are broken.''