Related topics

Can ‘Great Dayne’ become first sophomore to win Heisman?

August 20, 1997

MADISON, Wis. (AP) _ Countless recruiters took one jaw-dropping look at Ron Dayne and pleaded with the 5-foot-10, 262-pound dynamo to come wreck defensive lines, ravage linebackers and rake secondaries for them.

Just sign here, kid. And you can be our featured fullback.

But Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez was the only suitor who figured Dayne could and should be doing all those things with the football in his hands.

``Some schools wanted me as a fullback, some even wanted me as a linebacker,″ Dayne said.

``I just want to be one of the great running backs.″

So, the man known as ``Great Dayne″ came to Madison.

On Sunday, he’ll be in the national spotlight when No. 24 Wisconsin plays No. 17 Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Despite not starting until the fifth game last year, Dayne wasted no time in establishing himself as one of the great ballcarriers in NCAA history _ 2,109 rushing yards, 21 touchdowns and 21 school records as the Badgers went 8-5.

And everybody else wanted him to be a bruising fullback?

``Everybody wants a big, old thumper fullback: go in there, block linebackers and take out defensive ends and pass protect,″ Alvarez said. ``But we felt that he was a special athlete. The thing you could see right away was that when he got up a head of steam, he had tremendous vision, he was able to make cuts, he was able to run through people and still run away from people.

``And we felt that putting him deeper in the I-formation in our attack was just made for him.″

Was it ever.

Excluding his Copper Bowl totals, Dayne gained 1,863 yards last year to break Herschel Walker’s freshman mark of 1,616 yards set at Georgia in 1980.

Now, the most prolific freshman runner in college football hopes to become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy.

Dayne, though, is rather reluctant to admit that. He’s a man of many yards but few words.

That’s OK by Alvarez.

``What he did last year speaks volumes,″ Alvarez said. ``He did it. It’s not potential.

``He ran through people. He ran around people. He outran people.″

But Dayne’s restraint off the field is why the Badgers came up with an unusual campaign to hype the humble 19-year-old from Berlin, N.J.

Dayne, who has a Great Dane dog tattooed on his left biceps along with his nickname, is serving as a volunteer spokesman for the Dane County Humane Society in Madison.

He’s on posters, billboards and public service announcements on TV and radio, all featuring him in the company of Great Danes and the slogan ``Humane Treatment of Animals, Not Linebackers!″

When they kicked off the campaign, Dayne sauntered into a news conference in step with Johnny Angel, a majestic 175-pound purebred Great Dane.

``A Great Dane probably will be my first dog,″ Dayne said as he petted the imposing beast. ``I like him because he’s so big.″

Mary Paul Long, spokeswoman for the Dane County Humane Society, said she’s been inundated with requests from cities across the country seeking the posters.

Which is good news for Dayne, who’s at a decided disadvantage to Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning, whose face is on the cover of numerous magazines hyping him for the Heisman.

Dayne doesn’t mind.

``I’m glad he came back to school for his senior year so we can have a lot of competition,″ Dayne said. ``I wish him luck.″

Dayne may not be a familiar name yet, but it’s just a matter of time. After all, he’s only had a half season to make his mark.

``There’s not a lot of coaching strategy against that one,″ former Minnesota coach Jim Wacker said. ``You just wipe the blood off your nose and try again.″

``It’s like trying to tackle a bowling ball,″ Gophers cornerback Rodney Heath said.

``I’ve never tackled anyone like him except maybe a lineman who picked up a fumble,″ Penn State defensive tackle Matt Fornadel said.

``It was like trying to stop a Mack truck with a pea shooter,″ said Hawaii assistant coach Don Lindsey, whose team Danye demolished for 339 yards _ the second-highest total in NCAA history _ in just three quarters.

Despite all the terrific talk and Heisman hype, ``I think Ron would be the first person to tell you our season isn’t devoted to win Ron Dayne the Heisman Trophy,″ Alvarez said. ``Our season is devoted to winning games. Because of the nature of our offense, he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to excel.″

The joke around town is Alvarez doesn’t have a lot of game planning to do this year. Just go with: Dayne right, Dayne left, Dayne up the middle.

``I’m not going to dispute it,″ Alvarez said, laughing. ``We know people will overload us and play the run. If they do and we’re able to be effective anyway, we may not throw much anyhow. You don’t have to be cute.″

But the campaign to win Dayne the Heisman sure is catchy, and if he does capture college football’s most coveted prize, he might choose to challenge the NFL’s rules and try to go pro after just two seasons in college.

``I don’t even think about that,″ Dayne said.

He does have incentive, though.

``He says someday when he makes a little money, he wants to own one of those big Great Danes,″ Alvarez said. ``Actually, that might not be too long.″

Update hourly