MADISON—After the University of Wisconsin football team’s upset of Auburn in the Capital One Bowl last week, outgoing Badger head coach Barry Alvarez called Brian Calhoun the most talented running back he had ever coached.
Now, after one season as Wisconsin’s primary offensive weapon, Calhoun will take his unique abilities—a rare combination of elite speed, excellent hands, and the grit and durability to run persistently between the tackles—to the professional ranks. After an All-American junior campaign, Calhoun will forego his senior season and enter April’s NFL Draft.
According to Joe Koch, who coached Calhoun at Oak Creek High School, a press conference is planned for Thursday in Madison. Calhoun finalized his decision Monday after carefully mulling his options over several weeks.
Several factors played into Calhoun’s decision, Koch said. Calhoun has long dreamt of playing in the NFL and, after sitting out a transfer year, he has already spent four years in college. Calhoun was also wary of getting injured, especially after UW left tackle Joe Thomas tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Capital One Bowl.
“In this game, tomorrow can be your last day,” Koch said in a telephone interview.
First and foremost, after helping the Badgers win Alvarez’s last game as head coach, Calhoun felt he had accomplished all of his college goals.
“He definitely wanted to go out on a winning (note) for Coach Alvarez and for the team,” Koch said. “I think all that did was erase any doubts there would be, any kind of where you maybe have a regret, like something like unfinished business. And I know he didn’t want any of that.”
Calhoun saved his best performance in a record-setting season for last. He had two five-touchdown rushing performances and nine 100-yard rushing games. But none were as impressive as his 213-yard romp in UW’s 24-10 win over then-No. 7 Auburn.
“We’ve had some great (running backs), we’ve had Heisman Trophy winners, and I’m telling you, he has more ability than all of them,” Alvarez said following the bowl game.
Calhoun, who was a prep All-American, spent his first two collegiate seasons at Colorado. He transferred to Wisconsin prior to the 2004 season and sat out the year, per NCAA rules.
His one season of competition as a Badger will not soon be forgotten. Calhoun’s 2005 performance was arguably the best of any Wisconsin football player in history.
- Calhoun set school records with 24 total touchdowns, 22 rushing touchdowns and 348 rushing attempts.
- His 53 receptions is the sixth-best single-season total in Wisconsin history and the most ever for a non-wide receiver. He also set a school record for receiving yardage by a running back with 571.
- Calhoun’s 2,207 all-purpose yards are the second most in UW annals and his 1,636 rushing yards are fifth.
If Calhoun had made the decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior year, he would have been one of the favorites for the Heisman Trophy. However, the chance to win that prestigious award did not play in a role in Calhoun’s decision.
- Calhoun was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection and he was named to several All-American teams, predominantly as a second-team selection.
“When they played so well against Auburn and… for Coach Alvarez to go out that way I think it was just one of those things where to him that was like winning the Heisman,” Koch said. “That’s his Heisman.”
Calhoun’s speed and athleticism were always givens, but his durability was questioned before he became the Badgers’ featured tailback. Even after leading the nation in touches, however, some view Calhoun as a third-down specialist in the NFL.
Calhoun is listed at 5-foot-10, 194 pounds on UW’s official roster, but outgoing Badger running backs coach Brian White said in August that Calhoun actually weighed 203 pounds.
Koch reiterated that Monday.
“He thinks his stock is only going to rise in the combines because he played the bowl game at 206 (pounds),” Koch said. “People don’t realize that but he was 206 on the nose for the bowl game. He plans to be 208 for the combines. He said, ‘I was never 194, I don’t know why they listed me at that.’”
If Calhoun indeed weighs in at 208 pounds at the NFL Combine late next month, and runs the sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash he is capable of, it will certainly boost his stock. Last spring he was part of the UW track team’s Big Ten Champion 400-meter relay team.
Calhoun came to Wisconsin as a highly regarded pass receiver. In fact, a major reason why he transferred from Colorado is that former Buffalo coach Gary Barnett wanted to turn him into a wide receiver.
Calhoun’s receiving skills should translate nicely to the NFL. His 53 pass receptions—which included an incredible 11-reception game against Northwestern—demonstrated an ability unique in a college running back. Calhoun this season became only the second player in NCAA history to rush for more than 1,500 yards and catch passes for more than 500 yards.
In a draft loaded with running backs, though, Calhoun could be selected anywhere from the late first to early third round. His competition includes USC’s Reggie Bush, Minnesota’s Laurence Maroney, Memphis’ DeAngelo Williams, UCLA’s Maurice Drew and several other backs with first-day expectations.
“(Calhoun’s) always had a dream and the dream has always been to play in the NFL,” Koch said. “I remember that as a sophomore in high school, that’s always been the thing.
“Now he can realize that dream. That was too strong of a pull.”
Wisconsin’s offense will look far different without Calhoun in the backfield.
On the same day that Calhoun elected to head to the NFL, UW’s No. 2 tailback for most of 2005, Booker Stanley, was formally charged with second-degree sexual assault, second-degree recklessly endangering safety, four counts of battery and three counts of bail jumping, all stemming from a Dec. 21 incident in which he allegedly choked and assaulted his girlfriend. Stanley, a junior, has been indefinitely suspended since he was arrested Dec. 21 and it is doubtful that he will return to the UW program.
Stanley rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns last season. The only other tailbacks on the UW roster with any career carries are junior walk-on Dywon Rowan and sophomore Jamil Walker, who combined for 31 attempts for 130 yards and two touchdowns in 2005.
A trio of freshmen who redshirted this season—P.J. Hill, Jerry Butler and Dion Foster—will be given ample opportunity this spring to win playing time, and potentially the starting job. Hill (5-foot-11, 220 pounds) would have been UW’s No. 3 tailback this year if not for an injury in fall training camp. Butler (5-9, 180) is the team’s fastest player and Foster (5-9, 208) was the offensive scout team player of the year.
The Badgers also have a class of 2006 verbal commitment from highly regarded tailback Lance Smith (5-11, 190) of Howland High School in Warren, Ohio.