ARLINGTON, Texas -- Not long after Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott hurdled over a Chicago Bears defender, his mother, Dawn, went to Twitter to make sure everybody knew where that skill came from.
hurdling gene comes from momma! 🙌🏽 🏃🏾💨 pic.twitter.com/cKLbBQYluL— Momma, Mom & Mommy (@itz_mizdee) September 26, 2016
Dawn Elliott was a heptathlete at Missouri. She helped her son become quite the hurdler in high school, even if she never meant for him to use the skill on a football field.
“My mom is the best athlete in the family,” Elliott said. “She’s the reason I actually started to hurdle. One year I quit my baseball team and so I had to run track and I was like, ‘Man, I might as well try hurdles because my mom did it,’ and I ended up being pretty good.”
More than pretty good. He won the Missouri state championships in the 110 high hurdles and the 300 hurdles as a senior at John Burroughs High School, in addition to first-place finishes in the 100 and 200.
Before Elliott could make out the 3 and the 1 on the jersey of Bears safety Chris Prosinski, the hurdle was in his mind. As he took off, the 90,554 at AT&T Stadium gasped.
“I kind of knew I was the whole way,” Elliott said. “Whenever you get a DB in the open field with open space he’s going to cut tackle, so I thought I might have to pull the hurdle out.
Elliott went over Prosinski, took a hit from Jonathan Anderson as he went to the ground and came up with the first 100-yard game of his young Cowboys career.
Elliott gained 14 yards on the hurdle and finished with 140 yards on 30 carries in the Cowboys’ 31-17 win. It was the perfect answer to an imperfect start to Elliott’s season. In the season opener he carried 20 times for 51 yards against the New York Giants. Last week he carried 21 times for 83 yards against the Washington Redskins, but he fumbled twice, losing one.
“It feels good, just to see the hard work and see the results from it,” Elliott said. “Kind of going to work every week and not necessarily getting the results you want the first couple of weeks, but having the teammates that I do who’ve continued to have confidence in me no matter what we went through. The first game, shaky. The second game, two fumbles. For the guys to still have the ultimate confidence in me, just all the vets telling me, ‘This is going to be your game, Zeke. This will be the one.’”
Elliott picked up 21 yards on his first run of the game. By the end of the first quarter he had as many yards as he had against the Giants. By halftime he had 76 yards, 5 fewer than his total against Washington.
“Just my pace to the line, I was trying to hit it 100 mph, so just got to slow it down and give it a little time to develop, press my landmarks and making sure I was patient,” Elliott said.
There is a balance a runner has to find between slow enough and too slow as well as fast enough and too fast. Elliott had just seven preseason carries because of a hamstring strain in training camp. He could see the hole, if not feel them all in the first two games.
Against Chicago, he found that blend. He also did not put the ball on the ground.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the Cowboys did not learn more about Elliott.
“That’s probably one of the reasons we drafted him -- the mental toughness he has, the physical toughness that he has,” Garrett said. “He’s gotten better and better every week. He made a lot of good runs, a lot of tough runs, a lot of NFL runs. He’s finishing forward a lot.”
Elliott’s 140 yards were the eighth most ever by a Cowboys’ rookie runner. Only Julius Jones had more carries (33 in 2004) in a game by a Cowboys rookie. It took Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett four tries before he reached 100 yards. It took Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, five.
Elliott did it in three and he did it in spectacular fashion with a hurdle.
“Just being a bigger back, being a more physical back, you’ve got DBs that like to tackle you low in the open field,” Elliott said. “I had to put something on film so they don’t keep chopping those legs.”