By JOHN MARSHALL, AP College Football Writer
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) _ Once a skinny freshman intimidated by the size of his new teammates at Connecticut, Jordan Todman has developed into one of the nation’s best running backs.
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Playing at a school known more for its basketball programs and in a conference that struggled through a down year, Todman hasn’t gotten the kind of recognition he probably deserves as the nation’s second-leading rusher.
That can all change on New Year’s Day.
If he can lead his 25th-ranked Huskies over No. 9 Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl, or at least have a big game, Todman can give the rest of the country a glimpse of what Big East teams saw all
“A lot of people probably wouldn’t know who the No. 2 rusher in the nation is, so I guess it’s my job to go out there and show why I would be ranked so high and what I can do on the field,” Todman said.
Big East teams probably saw too much of him.
UConn doesn’t have much of a passing game –112th in the nation –so the bulk of the Huskies’ game plan was for quarterback Zach Frazer to turn around and hand the ball to Todman.
Even knowing what was coming, few teams were able to stop him.
Todman rushed for 1,574 yards, second in the Football Bowl Subdivision to Oregon’s Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James, and also was second in carries at more than 27 per game.
The 5-foot-9, 193-pound junior doesn’t have the build of a power back, but runs like one, getting most of his yards between the tackles. The Big East offensive player of the year averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns, helping UConn reach its first BCS bowl.
Despite his numbers, few people seemed to notice.
When the All-American team came out, Todman was relegated to the second team, behind Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter. That wasn’t necessarily a slight; Hunter had 26 fewer yards than Todman, two more touchdowns and played on a team that led the nation in total offense and won 11 games after running over Arizona in the Alamo Bowl.
When it came to other awards, Todman was the odd man out: left off the list of the 10 semifinalists for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s best running back, and not even in the conversation for the Heisman.
Awards voters might not know much about him, but the 11 guys on Oklahoma’s defense sure do after watching film of him elude and bull past defenders over and over the past month or so.
“He’s a great football player,” Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter said. “He’s patient in letting the play develop and getting behind the blocks. He gets downhill with the ball. No wasted movements at all.”
Todman nearly didn’t get this chance.
As a middle schooler he started hanging out with the wrong crowd and ended up moving in with a friend’s parents, who became his legal guardians so he could attend classes and play sports at another school.
Todman blossomed into one of Massachusetts’ best high school running backs –second in yards rushing in state history– and, despite looks from other programs, ended up at UConn because the Huskies would let him carry the ball instead of switching positions.
But when Todman arrived in Storrs, he was barely 180 pounds and out of his element, unsure how he’d fit in.
“There were times when I got here, as a true freshman, new playbook, you don’t know much and sit back look in the weight room at the rest of the running backs and it’s like, wow, what am I going to do here?” he said. “But through hard work, I jumped in the weight room, I feel like my talents allowed me to get on the field and do what I can do.”
It’s been a steady climb since.
Todman saw limited playing time as a third-string freshman behind Donald Brown, then ran for over 1,100 yards with 14 touchdowns splitting time with Andre Dixon last season.
This year, Todman proved he could carry the load himself, developing into one of the nation’s best backs and an NFL prospect.
He’s going to wait on deciding about the pros, though. He still has something to prove in the spotlight of the Fiesta Bowl.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to show the rest of the country what we can do,” Todman said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)