After running for nearly 1,200 yards as a sophomore, Connecticut's Jordan Todman already proved he was a major talent. But that was not enough. Todman wanted to show that he could be a workhorse, too.
Todman split carries almost evenly last season with Andre Dixon, a bigger back who often took the between-the-tackles duties while the smaller Todman ran off the edges. With Dixon gone, there were questions coming into this year whether the 5-foot-9, 193-pound Todman could be the every-down tailback or whether UConn would go with another tandem.
Nobody is asking that question anymore. Especially not after Todman's 37-carry, 222-yard performance in last Thursday's win over Pittsburgh.
"I heard people saying, 'Maybe he's too small' or 'He doesn't weigh enough to withstand all the carries,'" Todman said. "Well, 37 carries might have caused them to say 'Maybe he can do it.' I enjoy proving people wrong."
The Pitt game was the second time this year that Todman has had 37 carries and his third game of at least 33 attempts. Why wouldn't the Huskies keep handing him the ball? He has rushed for at least 100 yards in nine of his past 10 games (last month's Louisville game, a fiasco for the entire offense, was the only exception).
Todman has rushed for 1,176 yards and nine touchdowns despite missing a game with an elbow injury earlier this season. He ranks as the No. 2 running back in the FBS, continuing UConn's outstanding running back tradition. Donald Brown led the nation in rushing in 2008, and Dixon joined Todman as a 1,000-yard back last year.
(Yet, inexplicably and indefensibly, the Doak Walker Award voters don't seem to notice. They didn't include Brown as a finalist in 2008 and left Todman off the list of semifinalists this year. "It doesn't bother me," Todman said. "That's something based on everybody else's opinion.")
Despite his heavy workload, Todman said he hasn't been sore or "walking around limping." He credits that to his offseason work, in which he attacked the squat rack and ran every sprint and suicide as if it were the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.
"He made a concerted effort in the weight room last winter, spring and summer," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "He's more durable this year. He's stronger and a little bit thicker.
"We ran him outside most of time last year, but now he's running outside, running inside and doing everything we ask of him. And not too many times do people get good shots at him, because he's a little bit slippery."
Connecticut's game plan always revolves around running the ball behind its terrific offensive line, and that will be the case again Saturday against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Todman ran for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Orange in last year's UConn win.
"He's got good speed, good burst and he breaks out of cuts really fast," Syracuse linebacker Derrell Smith said. "It doesn't matter how big you are if you've got heart, and he's definitely got a lot of heart."
Todman doesn't come from a major recruiting hotbed. He grew up in New Bedford, Mass., not far from the Rhode Island border. He was the second-leading rusher in Massachusetts history, yet many prospective colleges wanted him to switch to defensive back. ESPN's recruiting profile of him ranked him as only the 118th-best running back in the class and said his "physical tools may be more suited on defense for the Division 1 level."
But Connecticut told him he could play running back and see time right away as a true freshman, and it helped that the school was within close driving distance for his two families: his biological one and the Cruz family that he lived with during his high school years. He chose the Huskies over Purdue and Boston College.
Soon, he'll face the same decision that Brown did in 2008: whether to go to the NFL a year early.
"That's in the back of my mind," he said. "But at the same time, I'm focusing on Syracuse and us winning out and possibly winning the Big East. Obviously, [going to the NFL] is everybody's dream in the game of football. At the end of year when it's time to look at it, I'll take it from there."
Whenever he decides to make the jump, Todman will have to prove himself all over again. Good thing he enjoys doing that.