April 28, 2008

Little back plays big in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas - Look at the numbers next to Eric Stephens' name on his team's roster and you may not be very impressed. At 5-foot-8, 177 pounds, you can certainly find some backs that are much bigger. You may be able to find some backs that are faster too. But you're not going to find too many that are better.

At the Nike Training Camp at the campus of Texas Christian University on Saturday afternoon, Stephens challenged himself to prove that he has much more to offer than just his 5-8 frame. After winning the running back MVP award for the afternoon, his statement was made.

"I just came out trying to do the best I could do, not trying to out do anybody," Stephens said. "Everything went well."

Stephens had a little extra motivation heading into the weekend due to the most recent release of the Rivals250.

"I think the thing that's been driving me the most is that they came out with the Rivals top 250 and I wasn't in it," he said. "I think that's what drove me the most. I felt that as an insult. They're obviously seeing something that I'm not seeing. Maybe size might be the difference but I'm trying to prove to everybody that I can do what everybody else can do."

Stephens was able to prove that in all kinds of drills and workouts during the day but the one drill that he thinks set him apart was his work during the one-on-one pass protection drills that pitted the running backs against the blitzing linebackers.

"Out at the blocking drill, I think that's what really stood out because with my size nobody ever got past me," he said. "I think that's what really stood out, me being little and I put them up like they were my size. I think that's what people don't understand. People think I'm little but I bench 300 pounds."

The success in the drill gave Stephens some validation for all of the hard work he has been putting into the offseason. Since the start of the season he has increased his bench press from 270 to 300 pounds and his squat has gone from 450 to 500 pounds. More importantly, pass protection was one of his main points of emphasis for his training.

"I told you last time we talked when you asked me what I was trying to get better at and it was blocking," he said. "That was really my weakness. I can cut all day but I need to be able to block up top. When I came out there today, that showed me that I'm able to do that."

His success in the drill surprised even himself.

"I'm not gonna lie. I came out here thinking these guys are 6-foot-something, 200-something so I was a little undersized."

Stephens was not a one-trick pony on the afternoon. He was successful in all of the drills that he competed in and it is no wonder that he is beginning to be popular among college coaches.

"I've been talking to Georgia," he said. "Michigan came out to the school and I gave them my information and introduced myself. Baylor came out. Houston and Minnesota have offered me but I'm expecting to get more than that once Spring comes."

The schools that have interested Stephens include a couple of Big 12 programs and the Gophers.

"I would love to hear from Oklahoma just because of the program they've built," he said. "I also like Oklahoma State. I've been looking into them a little bit. They run the ball."

Stephens has thought about what he is looking for in a school and has very clear criteria he will have in his mind.

"To me, when I come to pick my schools, it's really going to be about the offense and how soon I can get on the field. That's what it's going to come down to. I've got to do some more looking at the rosters."

As colleges begin to get out and see Stephens in person as opposed to the numbers listed under his height, he will likely have loads of options when it comes time to make a decision. Until then he will continue to carry the same chip on his shoulder that has brought him success to this point.

"I'm just trying to prove to everybody that even though I'm little, I can still do what a big back can do."



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