By Andrew Reynolds, Arkansas Sports Information
Numbers can be defining. In 2005, a single jersey number exploded onto the college football scene and has since given an entire state its identity. For Arkansas fans, the No. 5 has provided an unfathomable amount of hope and excitement. Darren McFadden, the man who personifies this number, has done more than run stride-for-stride with the best in the country, he has run them over.
“I feel like I have made a name for the No. 5,” says McFadden. “When I see people with that number on their back supporting my cause, it really hits home and makes me remember where I came from.”
Indeed, McFadden does remember his roots. From playing Pop Warner football in the Little Rock area to lighting up the scoreboard at Pulaski Oak Grove High School, he recalls it all.
“I remember being six years old when I scored my first touchdown,” says McFadden. “It was just a simple rush play along the right side for about seven yards. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”
Recollections of events such as this are a constant reminder to McFadden of those who have contributed to his successes as a Razorback.
“I don’t know where I would be without the help and persistence of my friends and family,” says McFadden. “I can’t single out anyone in particular whom I can thank for impacting me as an individual, for it has been a collective effort. My high school coaches and teammates had a big impact on me in terms of football, and for that I owe a lot of my on-field success to them.”
Although on-field successes is what has made Darren McFadden a nationwide icon, he tries not to let football be the only thing that defines him.
“I try to stay humble so people will respect me as an individual and, hopefully, label me as a great guy,” says McFadden. “I want to be someone that young kids can look up to in terms of character and perseverance as a man as well as an athlete.”
As far as hisaccomplishments as a Razorback go, McFadden will be the first to say that it has come with tireless work and dedication, as well as a substantial amount of assistance from his supporting cast. Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis have contributed immensely to McFadden’s triumphs, and he is well aware of it.
“I owe a majority of what I have accomplished to (Hillis and Jones), as well as the offensive line” says McFadden. “Without Felix, there is no one to give me a leg up on how the (opposing) defense is playing. Without Peyton, I’m having to make a few extra moves behind the line of scrimmage to make up for the absence of my fullback. And without the offensive line, it would be me versus 11 guys, giving me no chance to get into the open field.”
Players aren’t the only guys in the lockerroom that McFadden tends to befriend. The bond between No. 5 and the Razorback coaching staff is one of mutual appreciation, which leads to a sense of friendship between the two parties.
“Coach (Houston) Nutt is simply a great man,” McFadden says. “He has been able to keep (the team) together through the adversity of winning and losing, as well dealing with the departure of players and coaches. He has done all of this with a great deal of class and composure, which is reflective of his ‘never-quit’ football mentality.”
It was Nutt’s never-quit mentality and offensive craftiness that landed McFadden in New York City last winter with Ohio State’s Troy Smith and Norte Dame’s Brady Quinn for the awarding of the Heisman Memorial Trophy. McFadden finished second in the voting behind Smith, but the outcome wasn’t the only thing that he took from the experience.
“It was cool to walk around the streets of the ‘Big Apple,’ and compare it to how different it is from what I am used to,” says McFadden. “Being from the South, I had never really experienced anything like that up to that point. Brady (Quinn) and Troy (Smith) were both great guys, and they made the experience more enjoyable.”
Personifying an entire state usually doesn‘t fall into the hands of one individual, but this 6-2, 215-pound Little Rock native has stood up to the challenge and represented the state of Arkansas like no Razorback has done before.
From winning the Doak Walker award as the nation’s best running back of 2006, to dealing with NFL scouts week in and week out, it is apparent that McFadden is well on his way to even more future successes. Though he sits in the national spotlight and will hopefully visit New York’s Nokia Theater again in 2007 for the presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy, the words “Arkansas Bred” tattooed across McFadden’s abdomen ensure he will never forget where he came from.