McFadden Headed To NYC As Heisman Finalist

FAYETTEVILLE -- Darren McFadden was relaxing in his Orlando hotel room Wednesday evening, watching cartoons, when he got a phone call from Arkansas sports information director Kevin Trainor.

Trainor informed McFadden that the running back had been named one of three finalists for the Heisman Trophy, college football's most prestigious individual award.

McFadden is the first Arkansas player in school history to be invited to New York City to attend the Heisman ceremony as a finalist. The sophomore will be joined Saturday night by a pair of quarterbacks, Ohio State's Troy Smith and Notre Dame's Brady Quinn.

"To be considered one of the top athletes in the nation, it's a great feeling," McFadden said. "It's even more of a great feeling for me knowing that only three people are going. It just makes me feel really good."

Arkansas has never had a player win the Heisman since the award started being given out in 1935. But McFadden has the chance to be the first when the trophy is presented during a ceremony at the Nokia Theatre in Times Square on Saturday night.

ESPN will begin its coverage of the Heisman ceremony at 7 p.m. sand the winner will be announced at around 7:50 p.m.

Smith is considered the heavy favorite to win the award after leading the top-ranked Buckeyes through the regular season undefeated. Quinn, meanwhile, has received plenty of publicity as Notre Dame's quarterback.

But McFadden has made a late push for the Heisman despite being hampered earlier in the season by a serious toe injury.

He's the Southeastern Conference's leading rusher with 1,558 yards, and the Little Rock native has shown the type of versatility that Heisman voters like to see by rushing for 14 touchdowns, throwing for three touchdowns, catching a pass for a touchdown and returning a kickoff 92 yards for a score.

"It means even more for me to go up there and be a finalist, the first one in (Arkansas) history," McFadden said. "It's just a really good feeling for me."

Traditionally, five Heisman finalists are invited to New York City, but it can be as few as three if those players receive an overwhelming number of the 924 Heisman votes.

Last year, only Texas quarterback Vince Young and Southern California running back Reggie Bush and quarterback Matt Leinart were invited to New York City. Bush won the Heisman, making him the first running back to earn the award since Wisconsin's Ron Dayne in 1999.

"I'm kind of surprised (to be the only running back named a finalist) because I figured they'd pick more than just three people," McFadden said. "I didn't know they were only going to pick three people."

Despite having an impressive freshman season, McFadden wasn't considered among the favorites to win this year's Heisman. He missed all but a few days of preseason practices after injuring his big toe in a fight outside a Little Rock nightclub on July 29.

And even after McFadden regained his explosiveness, it took some time for the rest of the country to start paying attention to the 6-foot-2, 212-pound running back.

In fact, Arkansas didn't launch its official Heisman campaign for McFadden until Nov. 16, and even then, the school didn't take elaborate steps.

But McFadden managed to beat out a handful of other running backs to be named a Heisman finalist. West Virginia's Steve Slaton and Rutgers' Ray Rice were among several running backs who were considered to be in the mix to get invited to New York City.

"It's just a great feeling because you're only going up there with three people," McFadden said. "It just makes you feel better about yourself."

It's been a good week so far for McFadden. Only a few hours before he learned that he was a Heisman finalist, the Southeastern Conference named the sophomore its offensive player of the year.

Also on Wednesday, McFadden flew to Orlando as a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's top running back. The award will be announced live on ESPN at 6 p.m. Thursday.

"It's been real good for me," McFadden said of the last few days.

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