Northwestern's Sutton wrestled with redshirt decision

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

CHICAGO -- Tyrell Sutton reached a breaking point last season. He wanted to shut it down, take a redshirt, close the book on 2007.

But Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald wouldn't let him do it. The team had a legitimate shot at a bowl game, and Fitzgerald needed whatever he could get from Sutton, no matter how little. Even as the weeks went by and Sutton watched from the sideline with a high ankle sprain, Fitzgerald made sure the running back would be available.

"I'm glad he didn't give me the option of copping out," Sutton said. "It's always in the back of your mind, like, 'Yeah, I wished I'd redshirted,' but I really didn't want to. I'm just glad he didn't let me. I wanted these guys to know that I wasn't quitting on them."

Sutton burst onto the scene in 2005, winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors after rushing for 1,474 yards. His numbers dipped as a sophomore as Northwestern experienced off-field tragedy (death of coach Randy Walker) and on-field struggles (4-8 record), but he still rushed for 1,000 yards.

Primed for a strong junior season, Sutton injured his ankle against Nevada. Two weeks later the Ohio native tried to return against Ohio State in Columbus, but his ankle didn't respond well in pre-game warmups. Then three more weeks went by.

"I wanted to give my team a full season," Sutton said. "As soon as (the injury) happened, I didn't know I was going be out for like seven games. Then when it came, I was like, 'Man, maybe I should (redshirt).'"

But the decision was made: If Sutton could play, he would. After serving as a "decoy" against Eastern Michigan, he saw significant time in the final four games, twice eclipsing 100 rushing yards.

He enters this season as the Big Ten's leading active rusher (2,996 career yards) and has an outside shot of breaking Damien Anderson's school rushing mark (4,485). Sutton doesn't mind the fact other Big Ten backs (Beanie Wells, Javon Ringer, P.J. Hill) garner more hype -- he has his own goals.

"I feel old," he joked.

"I've got to prove I've still got it. It's been a long time since we've been out there and I've got to prove to myself that I still have that want-to and that drive and that tenacity I had freshman year."