Work in Sports
The Deuce is loose
With dazzling back, Rebels look to tangle for title
By Chris Low, Special to CNNSI.com
Consider it Romaro Miller's own little epiphany.
The Mississippi senior quarterback was watching the NFL draft on television this past April when analyst Mel Kiper predicted that Deuce McAllister would be the top overall pick in the 2001 draft.
"I was thinking, `Man, my roommate is going to be rich,'" Miller recounted. "I live with him every day, so I never look at him any differently. But I guess that day I did."
And with good reason.
McAllister, the Rebels' do-it-all running back, has mushroomed into one of college football's hottest commodities entering the 2000 season.
He's a fixture on all the preseason All-American teams and is being touted for the Heisman Trophy. Ole Miss officials have even launched a thedeuceisloose.com web site.
The NFL scouts have been equally enamored with McAllister's multiple talents. National Football Scouting Inc., one of two combine services that evaluates talent for NFL teams, rated the 6-foot-1, 220-pound McAllister the top senior prospect in college football.
All this for a guy who finished second on his team in rushing last season behind junior running back Joe Gunn.
"I'm sure a lot of people are skeptical about who this guy is, or they want to see what he can actually can do," McAllister said.
"A lot hasn't changed for me. I'm still going to be the person I am. You can't change that. If I can have a productive and healthy year, I think a lot of people are going to say that guy is a pretty good guy, as well as a pretty good football player."
His statistics weren't gaudy last season. A shoulder injury plagued him early, and he finished with 809 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns.
But once completely healthy, McAllister took off.
In his final five games, he rushed for 624 yards, seven touchdowns and averaged 5.8 yards per carry.
But what sets McAllister apart is his versatility. In three of those final five games, he gained more than 200 yards in all-purpose yardage.
In addition to his rushing numbers, he caught 20 passes a year ago and returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Arkansas.
"I don't think there's a better football player in America," said Mississippi coach David Cutcliffe. "I wouldn't trade him for any player in college football. He's a factor in the running game, a factor in the passing game, a factor in the kicking game. When people see the effect he has on our team and on the opponent, it speaks for itself."
When Cutcliffe refers to McAllister as the best running back he's ever coached, people might want to pay attention. While an assistant at Tennessee, Cutcliffe worked with the likes of James Stewart, Chuck Webb, Charlie Garner, Aaron Hayden, Reggie Cobb, Jay Graham and Jamal Lewis. All are either playing in the NFL now or have played in the league.
Cutcliffe says McAllister has the pass-catching ability of Stewart, the feet of Garner and even better speed than Webb or Graham.
"I don't think people understand how fast Deuce is," Cutcliffe said. "He's the fastest football player I've ever seen. They all came in and tested him in the spring, and his slowest time was 4.37."
McAllister has run as fast as the 4.2s, which coupled with his power and ability to break tackles, makes him the type of breakaway threat everybody covets.
"He rarely goes down on first contact," said Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt.
Being so well-rounded is something McAllister holds dear to his heart, both on and off the field.
This past summer, he traveled to Costa Rica for three weeks and received six credit hours in Spanish. He was student body president in high school and once sang at New York's famed Carnegie Hall with his high school choral group.
And if McAllister's future wasn't in football, he'd be somewhere playing basketball every day. Truth is he still sneaks and plays every once and a while. But word always seems to get back to Cutcliffe.
"There's all this protection around me now," said McAllister, an accomplished dunker. "The toughest thing is that I can't shoot hoops anymore."
For the time being, he'll have to do his damage on the football field. He'll get plenty of chances, too.
Taking into account rushing attempts, pass receptions, kickoff returns and punt returns, he figures to get 30-plus touches a game.
The added duty will make it easier to share the same backfield with Gunn and make it even more difficult for opposing teams to prepare for McAllister.
"I'm not a running back who will go out and get 2,000 yards, but how many running backs return kicks and play wide receiver?" McAllister said. "I'm a guy who will show up a lot of places and give defensive coordinators fits."
Although he may be a relative newcomer to college football's penthouse of stars, McAllister is anything but a secret on his home turf.
Raised in Morton, Miss., a cozy agricultural town with a population of 3,500, McAllister was known as Dulymus (his given name) until the ninth grade. That's when he started wearing No. 2, and his coach came up with the "Deuce" moniker in honor of then Alabama star David Palmer.
When McAllister arrived at Ole Miss in 1997, No. 2 was already taken. He settled for the next closest thing, and it didn't take long for No. 22 jerseys to start popping up all over the Magnolia state.
"I'm around him all the time, but you never really realize how special he is," Miller said. "To me, he's the same old Deuce. He'll tell a joke on me in a minute, but I've got a couple saved up for him."
The "Deuce for Heisman" bumper stickers are beginning to show up on cars from Jackson, to Biloxi, to Oxford. Whether he has a legitimate shot at winning college football's highest individual honor remains to be seen.
The Rebels would probably need to make a run for the SEC championship for McAllister to be a serious player. Then again, stranger things have happened.
Either way, McAllister doesn't plan on looking over his shoulder.
"I'm looking at it as if I still have a lot to prove," McAllister said. "I don't put up the numbers that [TCU's] LaDainian Tomlinson or [Maryland's] LaMont Jordan do because of carries. But once you look at the overall picture of what you're doing for the team, I think I measure up."
Chris Low covers the SEC for The Tennessean. His CNNSI.com conference insider will appear weekly during the season.