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Alabama senior running back Kenneth Darby must have a big day Thursday to set the career rushing record at the school. Darby played at Butler High in Huntsville.
Daily file photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Alabama senior running back Kenneth Darby must have a big day Thursday to set the career rushing record at the school. Darby played at Butler High in Huntsville.

record possible

Darby needs 256 yards to tie mark

By Josh Cooper · 340-2462

SHREVEPORT, La. — Believe it or not, Crimson Tide running back Kenneth Darby still has a shot at the Alabama all-time rushing record. Well at least according to offensive coordinator Dave Rader.

When told that Darby was “only” 256 yards shy of Shaun Alexander’s mark of 3,565 yards for a career heading into Thursday’s Independence Bowl, Rader decided to pull out all the stops and declare: “Let’s go for it!”

While the likelihood of Darby achieving the milestone remains slim, the Crimson Tide is hopeful that its starting running back can achieve something that seemed almost certain at the start of the year.

“We can go out there, he can have a great game and you don’t know if he can get it,” said fullback Le’Ron McClain. “I’m not going to doubt him. I just have to block my tail off.”

The 2006 season has been an unexpectedly tough one for Darby, a graduate of Huntsville’s Butler High. Coming in, Darby needed 1,076 yards to break Alexander’s record.

And following a year where he had 1,242 yards rushing — also with the new 12-game schedule starting this year — it appeared that it would be a matter of time.

But a leg injury suffered in preseason practice, personal issues and a hip pointer suffered against Hawaii have slowed the senior running back down.

Every time it appeared Darby was going to break out — 115 yards against Duke followed by 162 yards against Ole Miss — he took a step back.

In the last four games of the season, Darby had 234 yards on 66 carries. That’s 58.5 yards per game. If Darby averaged that for the whole season, he would have ended up with 702 yards, more than 100 less than the 820 he ended up with.

“He knows football, and he knows that if we’re running the ball we’re playing better and if we’re running the ball better, he’s carrying the ball better,” Rader said. “When we didn’t run the ball that well, he put a lot of stress on himself.”

Even when Darby would have a few sterling plays to help the team move toward the end zone, he would get pulled in favor of the jumbo package — a power set in which fullbacks McClain or Tim Castille got the most of the carries.

Darby’s only touchdown on the season was a first-quarter, 29-yard pass reception against LSU.

“I don’t know which coach loved the jumbo so much. It really doesn’t matter to me anymore,” Darby said. “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know what was going to happen.”

And while the Independence Bowl might not be the place that Darby had planned on going at the start of the season, it provides him with a chance at redemption.

He says he is feeling more at peace, knowing that his college career is about to end, that he is not feeling the same stress as before.

Maybe the record will not fall, but the Darby that people were expecting all season could finally show up.

“I can leave this game knowing I can leave this campus with a last win under my belt,” Darby said. “It’s also a good stepping stone for me and my future at the next level. It all depends on how good my performance will be.”

Darby will get a shot to show his skills to the NFL scouts in late January, too. He is one of three Alabama players invited to participate in the Senior Bowl in Mobile on Jan. 27.

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