He was drafted by the Saints in the third round, the 13th running back chosen. Mayes had been stigmatized by the split-veer. Even the Saints saw him as a plugger, a short-yardage straight-ahead type who might work out if he was durable and could catch the ball.
Well, he could catch it. But what he could really do was run with it. "I think I opened eyes at minicamp with my cutbacks," he says. "And hey, I wasn't completely unknown. I made All-America my junior year." Yes, and he finished 10th for the Heisman Trophy that year. All that and a buck gets him a ride on a subway, but not into the NFL. His ability to run did that. Right away, he proved himself better than fellow rookie Dalton Hilliard, the Saints' second-round pick from LSU. Now Mayes bids to become one of the running back elite. He is a sure bet to be the Saints' most productive runner since George Rogers in 1983. Now we know why a battered Earl Campbell could retire and not look back. He had seen Mayes run.
"Rueben has very deceptive speed—he's fast out of the blocks," says Saints guard Chuck Commiskey. "He can use his blocks and let things develop and still hit it quick. As far as him being drafted in the third round, I knew a guy named Wilbert Montgomery who was a sixth-round pick. The big question about Rueben was that nobody really knew him, coming from Washington State and all."
"I'm not out there thinking I've got something to prove," Mayes says. "So I'm from Canada. No big deal. I'm just another player. The Rams hit hard. They all do. I don't want to remember the big hits. I want to remember the big runs. I guess between me and Eric today, it was a little bit of a duel. You kind of want to show that you are a good, quality running back, too."
Mora thinks Mayes is not as finished a product as he would be if he had played high school football in this country. He has room to grow. "I had all the athletic ability when I came WSU," says Mayes. "True, I was raw. But my running back coach at Washington State, Gary Gagnon, would always tell me, 'Die hard when you're running with the ball, Rueben. Die hard.' "
There's another NFL running back from a school way off somewhere in the boonies who took it to heart when his old college coach told him to die hard when he ran with the ball. Guy named Payton. "I admire Walter Payton," says Mayes. "I'm not in his league." Oh, but you are, Rueben. And it's not a dream anymore. It's the 11th week.