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All-time Top 10: Running Backs

Hookem.com asked former Texas Longhorn coaches, players and longtime journalists to vote for the best Longhorns at every position since 1960.

Charles' 3.328 rushing yards and 36 TDs was more than enough to land him at No. 10 on our all-time list.

Today, we tackle the guys who were toughest to tackle: Running backs.

From Jamaal Charles to Cedric Benson to Steve Worster, running back, historically, has been one of Texas’ strongest positions.

But who’s been the best over the past 50-plus years?

10. JAMAAL CHARLES (2005-07)
Why he’s in this spot?
He’s a three-time All-Big 12 selection who’s No. 4 on the school’s career rushing list with 3,328 yards to go along with 36 TDs. People should start to appreciate him more considering what has happened to the Longhorn running game since he left school. Looking for an impressive number? His average touchdown run was an astounding 20.3 yards. He was one of the fastest running backs in school history and often used his speed and soft hands to become a receiving threat out of the backfield as he recorded 49 receptions for 539 yards and three touchdowns. His most impressive game might have been against Nebraska in 2007, when he rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to help Texas beat the Cornhuskers 28-25.

How he ended up at Texas
Few realize this, but Texas once considered using the Port Arthur Memorial standout as a cornerback. The Texas staff had taken him prior to his senior season and knew that he had incredible speed and great ball skills. But he was a bit on the slight of build side. Plus, he had shoulder surgery prior to his senior season, another reason to worry about the wear and tear of a young runner. But then Charles had a magical senior season, rushing for more than 300 yards in a game three separate times, including a 400-yard effort against Spring Westfield. He clearly was the best of four incoming running back recruits in his class. Charles had offers from Texas A&M, Florida and Notre Dame among others but committed to Texas in July.

What they said ...
Kirk Bohls: “Jamaal Charles may have been the most under-appreciated running back in school history. Part of that was due to his own go-for-the-home run style rather than grinding out tough yards between the tackles. That said, he was a gifted back who has shown that on the next level. Pound for pound, this undersized back was one of the best to ever put on a Texas uniform.”

9. JIM BERTLESEN (1969-71)
Why he’s in this spot?
A two-time all-Southwest Conference selection who helped the Longhorn win three conference titles while playing halfback in the wishbone formation. After playing high school football in Wisconsin, he came to Texas and rushed for 2,510 yards and 33 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He had an impressive nine 100-yard rushing games. He made an impact right away, rushing for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry for the 1969 championship team.

How he ended up at Texas
Fred Akers said Texas almost blew Bertelsen’s recruitment. His aunt lived on a ranch in Texas, and it was Bertelsen’s aunt who ended up asking Texas to look at his film. The Longhorns got the film, but before they could look at it, they ended up misplacing it. The aunt called again and asked if the coaches had looked at the film. They told her they had lost it. Fred Akers said she said, “Well I’m going to get you one as quick as possible.” The Longhorns looked at the film and it was “about an easy of a decision as you’re going to have. We couldn’t believe that we almost missed out on this guy.”

No. 10 Jamaal Charles

What they said ...
Ted Koy: Just a hard-working kid who was the definition of a meat and potatoes guy He had really good speed and quickness. Besides being a hard worker, his biggest asset was his vision. He had the power behind his run but typically he was just able to elude defenders. Wherever you were, Bertelsen wasn’t.”

8. JAMES SAXTON (1959-61)
Why he’s in this spot?
He led the team in interceptions, rushing, receiving and all-purpose yards in 1960. He came back in 1961 and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting after leading the team in rushing (7.9 yards per carry), all-purpose yards, touchdowns and total offense. He finished with 1,524 yards.

How he ended up at Texas
Born in College Station of all places, “Rabbit” came to Texas out of Palestine High School. And he was considered one of the best coming in despite weighing about 160 pounds soaking wet. You didn’t see anybody like him back in his day. Even in high school he showed an ability to change directions in the blink of an eye. He was that shifty.

What they said ...
Ted Koy: “The comment they used to make about him was if you miss him, just stay where you are because he’ll probably come back to where you are. You couldn’t corner him in an alley. That make him one of the most fun guys you got to watch in those days. It was one of the opposing defensive coaches who said, ‘If you think you have him, you don’t have him.’”

7. ERIC METCALF (1985-88)
Why he’s in this spot?
Not only is he one of the top (and maybe the top) receiving threats out of the backfield in school history, he’s also one of the most dangerous return men. He amassed 125 career receptions and was a three-time All-SWC running back. Carried the ball 585 times for 2,661 yards and 23 touchdowns. He had more than 1,000 return yards in his career. He was one of those guys who you just wanted to have the ball in his hands no matter what. He was going to do something exciting.

How he ended up at Texas
Former Texas recruiting coordinator Ken Dabbs received a phone call (he can’t remember who from) telling him that he had to look into Metcalf because he wanted to go someplace where he could play football and run track. Then, out of the blue, Metcalf’s father called Dabbs and interest was sparked in both directions. Metcalf came down to Austin his dad and he immediately was interested. It was James Blackwood an assistant coach, who finally sold Melcalf on the idea of playing in Austin and running track, too. Metcalf also was interested in Notre Dame and Virginia.

What they said ...
Bobby Burton: "Of all the elite athletes I've ever seen anywhere, I guarantee you Eric Metcalf would be in my top five when it comes to quickness. They talk about guys you can't touch in a phone booth. That was Metcalf. He played running back at Texas because he was just about the only offense the team had back then but he prospered in the NFL as an underneath receiver. Just lightning quick and great ball skills."

6. ROOSEVELT LEAKS (1972-74)
Why he’s in this spot?
He finished third in the Heisman voting in 1973 after carrying the ball 229 times for 1,415 yards and 14 touchdowns. He rushed for 342 yards against SMU that season. He finished his career with 2,923 yards and would have had more if he hadn’t injure himself in 1974. He led Texas in all-purpose yards both his junior and senior season. The one game David McWilliams remembers is against Alabama when Roosevelt came to the sideline all bloodied and he didn’t know if he could get back in the game. McWilliams looked at him and said, “You know we could use you out there.” Leak looked at McWilliams and said, “OK, I’m back in then.”

Eric Metcalf's skills as a passing threat and return specialist helped land him at No. 7.

How he ended up at Texas
At that time, Texas had never had an African-American back. There were a lot of barriers that needed to be broken back then, and it was McWilliams who was one of the driving forces in breaking them down. Leaks asked McWilliams a lot of questions about why and how an African-American could be comfortable and succeed at Texas. There was a lot of
talk about the black organizations on campus and how they would help him. McWilliams said, “It was really hard for Roosevelt. He was going to go to Houston because his two sisters were there. I convinced him that he was going to be the first black all-American at Texas. The thing about Roosevelt is we’re still good friends today. He’s on every hall of honor with everything that I do.”

What they said ...
Ted Koy: “He was very similar to Steve Worster, although he was just a step or two faster. Rosy had that tremendous vision. Rosy would see that crease and just get in it about as quick as anybody. I don’t think there’s any question that if he hadn’t tore his knee up he would have been a Heisman trophy candidate if not the winner.”

5. STEVE WORSTER (1968-70)
Why he’s in this spot?
Voted the 1970 Texas Amateur Athlete of the Year by the Texas Sports Writers Association, he rushed for 2,353 yards and 36 touchdowns in his career. Helped the team put together a 30-game winning streak and win three conference titles. He finished fourth in the 1970 Heisman race and was a consensus all-American in 1969 and 1970. He was one of the meanest fullbacks coaches had ever seen. He would kick you and stomp you. Ted Koy said, “I don’t know if he bit anybody or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did. ”

How he ended up at Texas
Recruiting him was like a war in itself according to Fred Akers, who headed up Texas’ recruiting when Worster was in high school. Everybody was after him. Akers said that whole bunch that won the national championship in 1969 was considered ‘The Worster Bunch’ because he was at the center of everything when it came to recruiting. As Akers said, “A lot of people thought that the school that got Steve would get a lot of the top players, and that’s exactly what happened.” He had some ties to the University of Houston, and his high school coach was a close friend of Bum Phillips, who was at Houston at the time. Worster had to make the decision to go against his high school coach, and he chose Texas because of the kind of team he saw the Longhorns putting together.

What they said ...
Ted Koy: “Steve had the size that you’re looking for at running back. His biggest asset probably was the first step. He didn’t have the blazing speed, but he had good speed. For the wishbone fullback he had that ideal first step to blow by people. And he could lower the shoulder and get the extra two or three yards. He would take a beating and keep on going.”

4. CHRIS GILBERT (1966-68)

Why he’s in this spot?
He was the first college running back in the country to gain 1,000-plus yards in three consecutive seasons as he led the Longhorns in rushing from 1966-68. He was the first in school history to reach both the 2,000- and 3,000-yard milestone as he finished with 3,231 rushing yards and 28 touchdowns. He was a smaller back who played bigger than his stature. He was one of those guys who knew exactly when to cut, and he combined those instincts with tremendously strong legs. He wasn’t the fastest guy, but he wasn’t going to go down easy.

How he ended up at Texas
Texas was the place his dad really wanted him to go. It was that simple. Even back then there were guys who were just going to end up at Texas because it was the school to be at. Gilbert probably was the first great running back after Jimmy Saxton. He had a little bit more size. Texas was moving to the I-formation at the time, and Gilbert knew he was a great fit for this offense because he had great eyesight and was able to pick the correct holes.

No. 7 Eric Metcalf

What they said ...
Ted Koy: “I had the privilege of playing with him. He never went down. I mean he never went down. He didn’t have blazing speed, but he had a perfect center of gravity so he could take hit after hit and keep going. He may not have gone 80 yards for a touchdown, but he would get a first down when it should have been a loss. Humble guy. Nice guy. Plus, today he still looks like he can put on the gear and go play.”

3. CEDRIC BENSON (2001-04)

Why he’s in this spot?
He was a tough runner who had an astounding 1,112 carries for 5,540 yards during his four-year career. His 64 rushing touchdowns are No. 3 on the NCAA career record list and No. 2 on Texas’ career list. He improved every year he was on campus, which wasn’t easy to do considering he began his career by rushing for 1,053 yards and 12 touchdowns as a freshman. He is one of three players in NCAA history to rush for 5,000-plus yards and score 400-plus points (he had 67 career touchdowns). He holds the NCAA record with 37 career games with a touchdown.

How he ended up at Texas
This was another Mack Brown coup, and, honestly, it was really one of Brown’s easier recruitments. Benson, right down to the dreadlocks he sported, idolized Ricky Williams, whom Brown had coached to a Heisman Trophy just two years earlier. Benson, who led Lee to three consecutive state championships, looked at a few other schools but never considered any other school seriously. A strong relationship that Benson had with Midland Lee coach John Parchman also helped because Parchman was one of the first high school coaches Mack Brown reached out to when he took the Texas job.

What they said …
Bobby Burton: “I don't know that Texas has ever had a more complete back than Cedric. He could really do it all. Maybe the one thing he lacked was that breakaway speed, but if you're talking about an off-tackle runner, I think the only person in his category in my time was Earl Campbell. Ced's vision and feel is just so good and he's great at reading blocks.”

2. RICKY WILLIAMS (1995-98)

WHY HE’S HERE?
The 1998 Heisman Trophy winner would be No. 1 on almost every school’s list as he finished his career with 21 NCAA records and 46 school records. His most impressive feats included NCAA records for career rushing yards (6,279), all-purpose yards (7,206), rushing TDs (72), total TDs (75), scoring (452 points), yards per rush (6.2/minimum of 781 carries) and 200-yard games (11). He posted eight of the top 10 rushing games in Longhorn history, including a school-best 350 yards against Iowa State in 1998.

HOW HE ENDED UP AT TEXAS
There are two California natives on this “best of” list, Williams and cornerback Bryant Westbrook. John Mackovic assistant Steve Bernstein was responsible for recruiting both of them. This recruitment really was between two schools: Texas and USC. Williams attended multiple USC games his senior year of high school but the Trojans initially waffled on whether they wanted Williams as a running back or linebacker. He actually committed to the Longhorns on his recruiting trip to Austin. Williams saw a little bit of himself in Heisman winner Earl Campbell. And that didn’t hurt the Longhorns when it came to landing the commitment.

Leaks, the first African-American running back in Texas history, finished third in the '73 Heisman vote.

QUOTEABLE
Bobby Burton: “Ending his career as the Heisman winner and the all-time rushing leader in NCAA history, even the way he did that against (Texas) A&M, that is storybook stuff. If you're a Texas fan, you remember where you were the day Ricky broke the record. And you can still rewind the play in your mind! People underestimate just how big the impact Ricky returning for his senior year had for the eventual trajectory of Mack Brown's program. It may be the single biggest factor because it was such a launching point with recruits.”

1. EARL CAMPBELL (1974-77)
Why he’s in this spot?
The 1977 Heisman Trophy winner is a legend in the eyes of every Longhorn football fan. He led the country in rushing his senior season with 1,744 yards as he eclipsed the 100-yard mark 10 times that season when new coach Fred Akers switched to an I-formation and put Campbell in the marquis spot. He finished his career with 4,443 rushing yards and was selected an All-American in 1975 and 1977. One of his greatest games was when the top-ranked Longhorns took on No. 2 Texas A&M in 1977. Campbell rushed for an unbelievable 222 yards and four touchdowns against the Aggies in a 57-28 victory. That helped seal Texas’ first undefeated regular season since 1970. When he won the Heisman Trophy in 1977 he said, "I really don't have words to express my feelings. I hope I can represent what it stands for and will do everything I can toward that aim.” He has done exactly that and has been a great ambassador for Texas football throughout the years.

How he ended up at Texas
Ken Dabbs stayed in a hotel in Tyler for 17 days and 17 nights while recruiting Earl Campbell. He had to. Everybody was after him. Truthfully, it really boiled down to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor. Oklahoma made a strong run at the last minute and Dabbs said what really helped the Longhorns is Campbell’s mother really wanted him to come to Texas. As Dabbs said, “That was my first big catch.” What an understatement.
Dabbs added, “The greatest run I ever saw him make was against Conroe High School, and he only made 5 yards. He got hit by all 11 guys on the field, and many hit him more than once. He probably got hit about 15 or 20 times on that play. He had to reverse his field a couple of times. It was just amazing. That’s big Earl. I don’t know that there’ anybody who’s been better.”

What they said ...
Ken Dabbs: “He was the most dominant high school football player I’ve ever seen. He weighed 214 pounds in high school and he would just run over people. It wasn’t fair. Everybody asked how fast could he run. I always tell them that I don’t know how fast he could run, all I know is that he was fast enough because he wasn’t going to get caught from behind. He was just one of those guys who you knew was going to be great. It wasn’t a question of if he was going to be great, it was a matter of how great he was
going to be.”

The panel who voted on these lists include former University of Texas two-sport star Keith Moreland, who is now the color announcer for the Chicago Cubs, Ted Koy, who played running back for the Longhorns in the 60s and is an avid follower of the Longhorns, Ken Dabbs, the former recruiting coordinator at Texas during the 60s and 70s, Kirk Bohls, long-time columnist for the Austin American-Statesman, and Bobby Burton, who is a Texas graduate, editor of Hookem.com and former editor-in-chief of Rivals.com. Special thanks also goes to former Texas coaches David McWilliams and Fred Akers who helped fill in a lot of the gaps in the recruiting sections for this series.

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