Todman's tough choice pays off

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- A 13-year-old kid running with the wrong crowd isn't often going to show wisdom and make a tough decision that changes his life for the better. Jordan Todman did just that, and by doing so Connecticut's All-American running back took a road less traveled that likely leads to an NFL career.

So, yeah, leaving his family to move in with another has made all the difference.

"It's definitely interesting," Todman said. "It's been a good journey actually."

First understand this: Todman's biological family wasn't the problem. He was. At least, Todman in middle school in New Bedford, Mass., was. That's where the wrong crowd was, and he was starting to run with it. Over in North Dartmouth, Mass., Todman's good friend and Pop Warner teammate, Justin Cruz, lived with his parents, Steve and Dana Cruz.

The idea came up organically: Move in with the Cruzes, who knew Todman's family well. But in order to escape trouble in New Bedford and play sports at a new school, Todman couldn't just move in. He needed to establish residency. So the Cruzes became his legal guardians.

"When you are surrounded by success, you are naturally going to be successful," Todman said. "Going to school in New Bedford and going to school in Dartmouth are two different environments."

At 13, Todman wasn't thinking about becoming the nation's second-leading rusher with 1,574 yards, as he has this season. He wasn't contemplating playing in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma, as he will do on Saturday.

"At first, our goal was just to go to school, graduate high school and be successful in life," he said.

But when Todman became the second-leading rusher in Massachusetts history with 5,803 yards, his options opened up a bit. Still, he wasn't widely seen as an elite running back recruit. A number of teams saw him as a defensive back. UConn wanted him to carry the football, so it was off to Storrs.

He was the Huskies third-leading rusher as a freshman in 2008, while Donald Brown carried the load. He split carries with Andre Dixon in 2009 but still gained 1,188 yards and earned second-team All-Big East honors. And this season, the 5-foot-9, 195 pounder became a star, one who may enter the NFL draft this spring, a topic he's not talking about until after the Fiesta Bowl.

"But that's been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old," he said.

Still, Todman is squarely focused on the Sooners, whom most believe are going to give the Huskies a whipping. More than a few times since the bowl matchup was revealed, Todman fielded questions on if he saw this game as a David vs. Goliath matchup or how he viewed such talk.

"It kind of makes us laugh," he said. "It puts smiles on our faces. It's good for people to have their opinions and say what they think."

He didn't seem to be laughing when he said that, though, and later called the analogy "a little bit of a smack in the face."

If UConn is going to have a chance against the powerful Sooners, however, Todman is likely going to have to come up big. The only problem: Everyone knows Todman is coming. The Huskies rank 112th in the nation in passing, producing just 145 yards through the air per game. Expect the box to be crowded with Sooners.

But everyone has known Todman is coming this year, and he still averaged 5.2 yards per carry. And the offense was good enough to win the Big East and earn a BCS bowl berth.

"He's a hard guy to knock off his feet," UConn defensive coordinator Hank Hughes said. "He'll look like he's going down but he'll keep going."

At one point, Todman looked like he might go down the wrong path and get knocked off his feet for any of the variety of reasons young men falter and lose their way. But he didn't. He made a tough decision and seven years later his prospects look promising.

Said Todman, "I'm pretty much living the life."