Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor the latest in long line of freshman running sensations

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Jonathan TaylorEvery season, a freshman running back jumps to the forefront in the college football landscape, demonstrating advanced physical skills. Some newcomers on this list have gone onto capture the Heisman Trophy and continue to enjoy success in the NFL.

The new “freshman sensation” is Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor. Through nine contests this season, he has run for 1,368 yards and 12 touchdowns with a healthy 7.2 yards per carry average with a high of 249 yards on the ground against Nebraska. He is averaging 152 yards per game, which could put him in rare air if he continues at that pace.

Taylor has helped the Badgers earn a number eight ranking in the current College Football Playoff poll at 9-0 so far. Iowa (6-3), Michigan (7-2) at home and Minnesota (4-5) on the road stand between Wisconsin and the Big Ten title game December 4th.

The 5-foot-11, 214 pound Taylor has earned Marshawn Lynch’s moniker “Beast Mode” due to his athletic prowess. A two-time New Jersey state 100 meter champion with a 10.64 time, Taylor completed his prep career with 4,642 yards rushing and 51 touchdowns, including 2,815 yards as a senior. He originally committed to Rutgers before opting for the Badgers.   Before it’s all said and done, he could earn an invite to New York in December for the Heisman ceremony.

Here are the best freshman college runners who preceded Jonathan Taylor.

Herschel Walker at Georgia had 1,616 yards rushing as a freshman in 1980. He totaled 3,167 rushing yards as a senior at Johnson County High in Wrightsville, Ga. as a 225-pound bowling ball with elite speed.  He won the ’82 Heisman. During his three seasons at Athens, Walker accumulated 5,2,59 yards and 49 scores averaging 5.3 yards per carry for his career.

Adrian Peterson, still going strong in the NFL, tallied 1,925 yards and 15 scores as a freshman at Oklahoma in 2004.  He ran a 10.26 hundred meters, 21.23 200 meters and 47.6 400 meters. A sure first ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer, Peterson was the best runner of a generation.

Jamario Thomas, perhaps overlooked at North Texas, had 1,801 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2004, the same season that Peterson grabbed more attention nationally. The 2004 Sun Belt Player of the Year after recording five 200-yard performances that year, he later landed with the Oklahoma Defenders in the Professional Indoor League.

Samaje Perine, now a rookie with the Washington Redskins, raced for 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns at Oklahoma in 2014. The 233-pound battering ram was thought to be a blocking fullback when he first signed with the Sooners.

Marshall Faulk, who notched 1,429 yards and 21 touchdowns in his first year at San Diego State in 1991, is a New Orleans native who at the time wanted to play running back in college. Everyone was recruiting him as a defensive back. Oops. In only his second college football game against Pacific, Faulk had 37 carries for 386 yards and seven touchdowns. He finished his days in the NFL with 12,280 rushing yards and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Tony Dorsett ran for 1,868 yards and 13 touchdowns for Pittsburgh in 1973, becoming the first freshman since Doc Blanchard (Army, 1944) to be named All American as a freshman running back.  Dorsett won the 1976 Heisman before helping the Panthers secure the National Title. The ’77 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year signed a $1.1 million contract with the Cowboys, the largest rookie deal up until that point. Dorsett went from national champ to Super Bowl winner in just over a year.

Ron Dayne, college football’s all-time leading rusher with 7,215 yards (including bowls), ran for 2,034 yards as a senior at Wisconsin, but the 250 pounder first grabbed the national attention after running for an astonishing 2,109 yards and 21 scores as a freshman at Wisconsin in 1996.

Marcus Dupree, a man child at Oklahoma, averaged 7.4 yards per carry. He recorded a 4.29 forty at 225 pounds and scored 87 touchdowns during his prep career in Philadelphia, Mississippi.  His career, albeit brief, included spectacular moments.  He did not start for the Sooners until the seventh game in 1982 (freshman season), but mainly came off the bench.  In the ’83 Fiesta Bowl against Arizona State, Dupree had 17 carries for 242 yards (14.2 yards per tote).  He played for the New Orleans Breakers in the USFL in 1984, gaining 684 yards and nine scores, and a brief NFL career aftr knee injuries ruined a once great talent.

Emmitt Smith, while a freshman at Florida in 1987, tallied 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns in only 11 games. He later joined Jim Brown, Steve Van Buren and Earl Campbell as the only four backs to lead the NFL three consecutive seasons in rushing. The Hall of Famer and Cowboys legend joined Jerry Rice as the only non-kickers in the NFL to score more than 1,000 career points.

Michael Hart burst onto the college scene with 1,455 yards and nine touchdowns for the Michigan Wolverines in 2006. He also ran for 1,562 yards and 14 scores as a junior two seasons later.  The fourth all-time prep rusher nationally with 11,045 yards and 204 touchdowns, Hart briefly played for Indianapolis in the NFL.

Other Freshman Sensations:

Maurice Clarett, a 2002 Ohio State freshman with 1,237 yards and 18 touchdowns, led the Buckeyes to a perfect 14-0 record and a national title.

Jarvion Franklin, now a senior at Western Michigan, had 1,551 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2014.

Nick Chubb, still a Georgia Bulldogs workhore, had 1,547 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2014.

Dion Lewis, now with New England, had 1,799 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2009 at Pitt.

Chance Kretschmer, a name you may hardly remember, had a special freshman campaign in 2001 for the University of Nevada rushing for 1,732 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is now a cattle horse rancher still residing in Nevada.

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Rene Nadeau

Rene Nadeau


Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Rene Nadeau has been involved in sports ever since his earliest memories. Rene played basketball, wrestled, ran track, and was an All-District running back in football at John F. Kennedy High School. He went on to be a member of the LSU football program, developing a passion for the game in even…

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