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'Great Dayne,' great father

Badgers' Alvarez has watched the once-timid RB grow

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Posted: Wednesday August 18, 1999 08:54 PM

  With 499 yards, Dayne (above) will pass Ohio State's Archie Griffin to become the Big Ten's career rushing leader. AP

MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- College football's premier tailback spends most of his free time babysitting.

Ron Dayne admits he's devoted to his infant daughter, Jada. She was a primary reason he passed on the riches of the NFL and returned to Wisconsin for his senior season.

"She's a big part of my life," Dayne said, unable to suppress a smile.

But there are other reasons Dayne is leading the No. 10 Badgers for one more year. He would like to write his name in the record books -- right at the top.

With 1,717 yards, Dayne could pass Texas' Ricky Williams and become major college football's career rushing leader. Williams claimed the record last season from Pittsburgh's Tony Dorsett.

"For the first time, I see a record that he's set as a goal, and that's important to him," coach Barry Alvarez said. "He's really focused. He's a mature young man now."

Alvarez has watched Dayne mature from an uncommunicative freshman into a quietly confident senior. Though he still isn't entirely comfortable with the attention continually heaped upon him, Dayne said he has learned to tolerate the many demands of being a superstar.

It's a skill he has applied to fatherhood. "I know she's special to him," Alvarez said. "He spends as much time with her as he possibly can, and he wants to be a good father. When a kid comes to your program as a raw 18-year-old, that's what you hope to see by the time he leaves you."

Dayne has little left to prove on the field. He rushed for 246 yards and four touchdowns in Wisconsin's 38-31 win over UCLA in last January's Rose Bowl, an overwhelming performance that would have been a perfect cap to an extraordinary career.

But Dayne returned to Madison, which he said finally feels like home. He hibernated through the Wisconsin winter, setting his sights on the season to come and the records he will attack.

Reaching Williams' record is far from a sure thing. Every defense the Badgers play will be keyed to stopping Dayne, who hasn't rushed for more than 1,700 yards since his freshman season. With 499 yards, Dayne will pass Ohio State's Archie Griffin to become the Big Ten's career rushing leader. Dayne also could become the first player to lead the conference in rushing three times.

And then there's the Heisman hype. Williams, Griffin and Dorsett all won college football's top award, and Dayne is a front-runner for the 1999 trophy even before he has played a game.

"All of those things -- the records, the Heisman -- are things that happen when you're in a good team situation," Dayne said. "They're important because they prove that what you're doing as a team is working. You can be the best player on a bad team, and you're not going to win awards."

The 253-pound Dayne has been prone to minor injuries during his years at Wisconsin, but he is in top shape entering the fall. He is running behind an offensive line that lost two starters, including mammoth right tackle Aaron Gibson.

Offensive coordinator and running backs coach Brian White said the Badgers' primary offensive strategy -- give it to Dayne and get out of the way -- won't be difficult for opponents to figure out. Stopping it will be another thing entirely. "Ron has had to earn every bit of respect he gets in the Big Ten," White said. "You play to your strengths as a football team, and Ron is our strength, no question."

In fact, Dayne feels his greatest accomplishment this season might be leading the Badgers to another Big Ten title, an exceedingly tall order in a conference this competitive.

"Everybody talks about the rushing record, and that would be good, but I'm more concerned about winning," Dayne said. "That feeling we had at the Rose Bowl last season was the best feeling I've ever had that wasn't about my daughter."

Related information
SI Scouting Report: Wisconsin
The Heisman Watch
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Ivan Maisel's Mailbag
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