Athletic trainer Dean Weber has been around the University of Arkansas longer than dirt. But you don't see many quotes from him in newspapers unless there's a need for an injury report.
So when a reporter asked for his thoughts earlier this week when he attended the announcement that tailbacks Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were leaving school early to head to the NFL, Weber cocked his head and paused a bit.
"These guys just announced for the NFL and you want to talk to me?" he said.
Well, the subject matter would be McFadden and Jones if that helps grease the way. Fine, Weber said, "They are really neat kids."
Weber should know. If ever someone in the Broyles Center gets a chance to identify character and class among football players — and especially running backs — it would be Weber. If you get tackled in football, there's a pretty good chance you'll need to see the trainer sooner rather than later.
Just think about these numbers for the two tailbacks. Counting runs, receptions and kick returns, McFadden touched the ball 869 times.
Jones had 488 touches counting runs, receptions and kick returns. That's 1,357 touches with the ball under arm. That doesn't even count the blocks they delivered for the other on kickoff returns or when they took a hit carrying out a fake when the other had the ball.
The point being there were plenty of chances for defenders to harm them, and probably there were plenty of bruises as they were taken to the ground by swarms of defenders. Through all of that, they were both in all 38 games of their Arkansas careers.
"Remarkable, just remarkable," Weber said. "They both had some injuries. Of course, Felix had the bruised thigh in the Tennessee game and Darren had some bruises and aches, too. But they always answered the bell."
Jones couldn't finish the Tennessee game because of that thigh bruise. And, he was on the field the next week against Mississippi State for just one play. McFadden got his bell rung in the Alabama game early this season and wasn't out there at the end, but that was it for him, too.
"Absolutely amazing, what they did the last three years," Weber said. "For running backs, that's probably unheard of for two of them to make it through like they did.
"It's probably happened before, but I can't recall it. I don't know what Earl Campbell did in his career at Texas. He was very durable, too. He took a pounding and kept going, too. But for two to do what these two did, I don't know if you could find it, every game for three years."
Some of that is probably luck, but a lot of it was toughness, too. That durability will enhance their value in the NFL draft.
"Like I said, remarkable," Weber said. "These two are clearly among the toughest we've ever had here. Not a lot anywhere are as durable as they are. They were the toughest I've ever seen."
It's not like they were always in perfect health. There were beat up knees, elbows, shoulders, ribs and ankles in a lot of those 38 games. But McFadden and Jones were always there for the team and each other.
"I think that's a key aspect, too," Weber said. "They are team players and they were also very much there for each other. I think that's important, too. They were complementary players. They helped each other.
"I don't think there is any way Darren could have done what he done without Felix. Felix couldn't have done what he did without Darren.
"They were there today, announcing together and that is appropriate. They are a package. They came in as a package and left as a package."
Weber enjoyed every second with both. He thought they maintained a proper amount of respect for the game, their teammates and the school throughout their time at Arkansas. If there was anything he thought might have been missing at the announcement, it might have been their teammates.
"You really have to keep in perspective that they were part of a package, and not just with each other," he said. "You can't minimize the amount of help they had the last three years. You think about their success, you have to draw a link to guys like Peyton Hillis and Jonathan Luigs and so many others. Marcus Monk would be in there, too.
"Peyton Hillis was as good a blocker and receiver as we've ever had at fullback. Luigs was the Remington winner, the best center in the country.
Until he got hurt, Monk was as good a receiver as we've ever had here. You look at all those pieces to the puzzle, they all go together.
"They know that and they thanked their teammates. But I think some just look at them and think they did it by themselves and that isn't true.
"Football is the greatest team sport. You go on the road and load up a complete airplane to go play the game. You load a lot of people onto that plane. It takes every one of them. The great thing about Darren and Felix, they understood that. They got it.
"I'm proud of them and happy for their success for that very reason. Not everyone gets it. They did. They understood they needed the help from the managers, the training staff, the coaches. They knew they needed Peyton and that offensive line."
Weber hopes they see one more aspect of the big picture. One of the questions asked by the media concerned degrees. Both have a little more to go to attain a diploma. Both said they wanted a degree, but that they knew school would be there when they were done with the NFL.
"I hope they really do understand that they need that diploma," Weber said. "Both should be financially secure with the contracts they are going to get from the NFL. They should be able to help their families, but how they can help their family the most is by getting that degree. That should be an obligation to their family, too. That should be important for their families and their future children.
"I think they will do that. I think both of them will continue to mature and do things that are correct. Like I said, they are both neat individuals. We've been lucky to be around them these past three years."
State of the Hogs: McFadden, Jones
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