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Chargers' Sproles is as tough as they come

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Sydalish, Aug 7, 2009.

  1. Sydalish

    Sydalish Addicted to Sports

    Nov 11, 2007
    Chargers' Sproles is as tough as they come
    by Mark Kriegel
    Updated: August 7, 2009, 11:56 AM EDT Comment

    At 5-6 and 185 pounds, Darren Sproles is the smallest player in the league. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

    SAN DIEGO - The open slit across the bridge of his nose recalls a fighter's scar, which seems apropos, as I'm here to nominate Darren Sproles for a pound-for-pound title. He may not be the NFL's best, but he gets my vote for toughest.

    Tough guy, eh? He might not have eye-popping stats, but tiny Darren Sproles is the NFL's toughest player, on and off the field.

    "Oh, that," he says, touching the wound as if to remember. "Two days ago in practice. The helmet came down on my nose."

    It's not the biggest cut. But the horizontal half-inch thread gives you a pretty good idea of the impact. Doesn't take much to imagine a man twice Sproles' size coming down on him, like a building collapsing.

    "It was an inside run," he says.

    "You're too small to run inside."

    "Nah," he says, smiling. "Not really."

    At 5-foot-6, the Chargers' all-purpose back is the shortest man on an NFL roster, according to STATS LLC. For the record, there is another 5-6 player, Cory Ross, a little-used back with the Ravens. But he's listed at 201 pounds. For the purposes of comparison, a better-known little guy, Maurice Jones-Drew, is 5-7 and goes 208. Sproles is 185.

    Still, that's not the main criterion in my pound-for-pound argument. I happened to be at Qualcomm Stadium for Sproles' best night in professional football. That was last January, when he gained 328 all-purpose yards (including 22 on the winning touchdown in overtime) while filling in for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson in a playoff win against the Colts. But the real tough guy didn't emerge until after the game, when Sproles was asked to appear in the interview room.

    I didn't know it at the time, but Sproles has a stuttering problem. It came on when he was five or six years old, and never went away. But he deals with it. And never better than that night.

    Truth is, he thought about not showing up in the interview room. One-on-one interviews are OK; he chooses his words with deliberation. It's refreshing to hear. Sports are afflicted with an epidemic of glib, with guys who keep talking but say nothing. (You hear me, Ocho?) Yet here's a man who chooses his words to matter, who works to use language with meaning.

    "When I get a camera in my face, though," says Sproles, "that's when I get real nervous."

    The post-playoff interview room was his nightmare: hot, crowded and full of cameras. It was a small space as I remember, maybe 30 or 40 reporters and cameramen.

    "But when I walked out there, it looked like, man, about 500 people," recalls Sproles.

    He remembered what his teammates had said in urging him to the room.

    Don't worry. Just go in and talk.

    You stutter, you stutter.

    Ain't no big deal.

    And he remembered his own training: Just breathe. Relax. Take my time.

    Then he went to the podium and answered every last question, and did a pretty good job of it.

    Talking to Sproles at training camp on Thursday, I'm sure he wanted to walk away from the interview room. But I don't think he ever really would have. He had trained in anticipation of just that moment, working hard to deal with the stutter. Walking away would've been like walking away from a fight. And Sproles, who works with the Stuttering Foundation of America, isn't the type to do that.

    He says he'd rather have kids watch tape of that press conference than the 328-yard game.

    "Sometimes, kids be scared to talk in front of the class," he says. "I just want to show them. You don't have to be scared to talk."

    Even as I write this, there are those of you looking up Sproles' stats, unimpressed. He had just 330 regular-season rushing yards and another 342 receiving while backing up Tomlinson last year. Upon closer inspection, however, you'll see an average of 5.4 yards per carry. Of his 29 catches, an astounding five went for touchdowns. He got two more touchdowns on returns, and averaged better than 27 yards on kickoffs. Then there's one more number: $6.6 million. That's how much he'll earn this year after the Chargers designated him a franchise player.

    So, not only is Sproles one of the toughest guys in the league, he's also pound-for-pound among the richest.

    "It's very gratifying when players do exactly what you envisioned them doing," said A.J. Smith, the Chargers general manager, who scouted Sproles and drafted him out of Kansas State. "He's skilled in so many areas."

    He can run. He can catch passes. He returns punts and kickoffs. To Smith, he's the antithesis of the "boisterous, bragging" character who declares, "I've been in the league a year and a half, I'm ready to be The Guy."

    Sproles doesn't need to talk about being The Guy. He's a man.

    For the record, he said he'd be happy with "15 touches" a game, any combination of runs, returns and passes. But he could do 20, or even 25 if need be. Does that make him an every-down back, a so-called featured player?

    "That makes him a special player who can help the Chargers win," says Smith. "That (franchise) tag tells you all you need to know."

    It was a hard-won $6.6 million. In 2004, he lost his mother to cancer. He had promised her he would graduate, and so he did the next year, with a degree in speech pathology. Still, there were no shortage of presumptions against a rookie who came into his first camp at 5-6, 180 pounds. In 2006, he broke his ankle in an exhibition game and missed the season. Most guys don't come back from broken ankles, especially players who depend on changing directions at high speeds.

    The ankle, it's worth mentioning, was snapped on a punt return. Returns are the most hazardous plays. You hear of so many career-ending injuries, of guys being knocked silly.

    I ask Sproles what's the hardest he's ever been hit.

    "In college," he says. "Against Oklahoma State." He doesn't remember who hit him. But there were two of them. One from his left, another from the right. He didn't see either.

    "Were you knocked out?" I ask, again looking at the fighter's cut.

    He shakes his head. "Just got up slow."

    "Ever been knocked out?"

    "Nah," says Darren Sproles. "Never."
  2. Buck Melanoma

    Buck Melanoma Guest

    I love this kid. :tup:
  3. Nomadic Bolt Fan

    Nomadic Bolt Fan Well-Known Member

    Jul 21, 2006
  4. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

    Aug 3, 2006
    The Chargers have weapons at every skill position and Sproles is the most versatile of all. He's like the old German 88. Artillery piece, anti aircraft gun, anti tank gun, Tiger tank gun. Moved easy, hit hard. Just like Darren. Not the biggest gun on the field, but you had to account for it every time you poked your head out of the ground.
  5. StratoBoltz

    StratoBoltz BoltTalker

    Jun 5, 2008
    Sproles is the man,i love the way he plays the game:bolt::tup:
  6. wrbanwal

    wrbanwal Well-Known Member

    Dec 27, 2005

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