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What Should Have Been: DeShaun Foster and the 2001 Heisman

Photo Credit: <a href="">Associated Press / SL</a>
Photo Credit: Associated Press / SL

Before Chianti Dan set us out on our decade of mediocrity, wandering the desert of the college football world, UCLA football reigned supreme, not only in the City of Angels, but on the West Coast as a whole. It was 1998 and the undefeated Blue and Gold were marching toward the inaugural BCS national championship game and a matchup against Tee Martin, Jamal Lewis, and the #1-ranked Tennessee Volunteers. Led by Cade McNown, the Bruins featured a fearsome young one-two punch in the backfield, led by sophomore Jermaine Lewis (503 yards rushing, 4.2 yards per rush, 11 rushing TDs) and freshman DeShaun Foster (635 yards rushing, 5.5 yards per rush, 12 total TDs).

And, as we all know, that came to a crashing halt in Miami on December 5, 1998, as the 10-0 and #3-ranked Bruins fell to Edgerrin James and the Hurricanes, 49-45. And, as we all know, it was a loss that UCLA football has yet to recover from.

But, the 2001 season had the promise to change that, to bring UCLA out of the malaise it went into following the program-crushing loss in Miami and loss of their star QB, Cade McNown, to the NFL. The Bruins entered the season ranked #17 in the nation, opening against #25 Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Cory Paus was entering his junior year, with two years of starting experience under his belt (after posting a 55.8% completion percentage, 2007 passing yards, and 16 TDs to 9 INTs as a sophomore in 2000), but most importantly, the Bruins were returning their star tailback, who found himself not only on the Doak Walker Award watch list, but also a presumptive candidate for the Heisman Trophy, an award that had alluded UCLA since Gary Beban beat out U$C's O.J. Simpson to win it in 1967.

His name was DeShaun Foster.

The senior running back from Tustin was entering the season following a strong junior campaign in 2000, having gained 1,072 all-purpose yards from scrimmage (930 yards rushing, 142 yards receiving) with 12 all-purpose TDs from scrimmage (11 rushing, 1 receiving). Despite the fact the Bruins finished 2000 with a whimper, limping to a 6-6 finish on the back of a three-game losing streak (Washington, U$C, and Wisconsin in the Sun Bowl), expectations were still high in Westwood. Only a few seasons removed from the highs of 1998, the Bruin faithful expected that a more experienced Paus, coupled with Foster's running, would lead to UCLA getting back on the right course.

And they did. Until it all came crashing down, thanks to a Ford Expedition, costing UCLA the chance to display another Heisman Trophy in Westwood.

To kick off the season, the #17-ranked Bruins went to to Tuscaloosa and took down #25-ranked Alabama, 20-17, to open the season with a tough road win, led by Foster's 110 yards on the ground (averaging 4.6 yards per carry) and key defensive turnovers by Ricky Manning (interception) and Rodney Leslie (fumble recovery). The #14-ranked Bruins followed up their grind-it-out win over an SEC opponent by going to Lawrence and beating the stuffing out of the Kansas Jayhawks, 41-17. And who was leading the way?

DeShaun Foster, with 230 total yards from scrimmage (189 rushing, 41 receiving), averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and notching 3 rushing TDs. The Heisman hype was on.

Two weeks later, in their first football game following the tragedy of September 11, the #21-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes came to the Rose Bowl, with the #14-ranked Bruins pulling out an ugly, low-scoring win, 13-6, with DeShaun leading all rushers with a paltry 66 yards on the ground. The next week though, the #12-ranked Bruins hit the road for the third time in their first four games, taking on #19-ranked Oregon State. The Bruins, despite being on the road to a ranked team, pummeled future NFL stud running back Steven Jackson and the Beavers, winning 38-7. And to no surprise, who was the Bruins' star?

DeShaun Foster and his 147 rushing yards (4.7 yards per carry) and 3 rushing TDs.

After another bye week, the #7-ranked Bruins returned home to the Rose Bowl, taking on #10-ranked Washington, in one of the most-anticipated games of the season. The Bruins took it to the Huskies, 35-13, and DeShaun Foster, in front of a nationally televised audience, posted a monster game: 301 yards rushing (at an incredible pace of 9.7 yards per carry) and 4 rushing TDs. Squaring off against a top-10 opponent, DeShaun flashed the credentials that made him a legitimate Heisman candidate.

Next week, the #4-ranked Bruins took on our hapless brothers from Berkeley (in the final year of the pathetic Tom Holmoe era), destroying the Golden Bears at the Rose Bowl, 56-17. DeShaun took a back seat to a more balanced Bruin attack, but still posted a very healthy line: 178 yards from scrimmage (117 rushing, 61 receiving) and 3 total TDs (2 rushing, 1 receiving). The next week the 6-0 and #4-ranked Bruins headed to the Bay Area to take on #20-ranked Stanford, and the season finally hit its first snag, with the Bruins tripping up, 28-38, in Palo Alto. Despite the loss, DeShaun still put up a respectable 99 yards from scrimmage (77 yards rushing, 22 yards receiving) with a rushing TD.

Reeling from the loss to Stanford, the #9-ranked Bruins still were odds-on favorites to grab the Pac-10 crown and the BCS bowl berth that accompanied it. However, that ended in Pullman the following week, as UCLA lost to #16-ranked Washington State (hey Cougar fans, remember when both of our teams didn't suck?), 14-20. DeShaun still put up a strong effort in the loss, rushing for 102 yards and picking up another rushing TD, to bring his season total to 13 TDs total.

With eight games down and three left on the schedule, DeShaun Foster had a very strong case for the Heisman, standing at 1,238 yards from scrimmage (1,109 rushing, 129 receiving) and 13 TDs from scrimmage (12 rushing, 1 receiving).

And then this happened:

His crown could have been the Heisman Trophy. His championship contender could have been UCLA.

He could have been finishing the most memorable autumn of his life, playing in a major bowl game that could have lived in Bruin lore.

Instead, on Tuesday, when asked about that 2001 season, DeShaun Foster couldn't recall a single thing.

Are you bitter about how things ended at UCLA?

"Um, no."

Were you treated fairly by UCLA?


Will you even talk about your last season at UCLA?


Suddenly, in the middle of a Heisman-worthy season, DeShaun Foster's senior season and UCLA football career came to a sudden, controversial end. Caught driving a Ford Expedition that was connected to a friend, who was in turn, working for a sports agent, UCLA immediately declared Foster ineligible, costing Foster the balance of his season, and in all likelihood, the Heisman Trophy. The end result for the rest of the team was a sputtering end to a season that started with so much promise, culminating in a 7-4 record, a 27-0 humiliation by Carson Palmer and the U$C Trojans, and finishing outside the top-25.

As a quick aside, take a look at how UCLA reacted to this scandal. The Bruins were a top-10 football team at the time; DeShaun Foster was a legitimate Heisman contender (which we'll discuss in a bit), and despite that, UCLA declared him ineligible. Now, look at how U$C reacted when their star running back, Joe McKnight, got popped in a agent-connected SUV. The night-and-day difference between the two schools could not be more stark.

DeShaun Foster is the biggest could-of, would-of, should-of story for UCLA football fans. Through eight games of the 2001 football season, Foster posted the following line:

  • 216 rushing attempts for 1,109 rushing yards (5.1 yards per carry) and 12 rushing TDs, to go with 9 receptions for 129 yards (14.3 yards per catch) and 1 receiving TD. In total, 1,238 yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs.

By comparison, the last two Heisman Trophy winners (well, put an asterisk next to Reggie's name since he's not technically a winner anymore) who were running backs, put up the following numbers through eight games:

  • Reggie Bush, RB, U$C (2005, through eight games): 111 rushing attempts for 909 rushing yards (8.2 yards per carry) and 10 rushing TDs, to go with 23 receptions for 284 receiving yards (12.3 yards per catch) and 2 receiving TDs. In total, through eight games, 1,193 yards from scrimmage and 12 TDs.
  • Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama (2009, through eight games): 153 rushing attempts for 1,004 rushing yards (6.6 yards per carry) and 8 rushing TDs, to go with 19 receptions for 186 receiving yards (9.8 yards per catch) and 3 receiving TDs. In total, through eight games, 1,190 yards from scrimmage and 11 TDs.

So, in comparison, through eight games, DeShaun Foster had more total yards from scrimmage than both Reggie Bush and Mark Ingram had at the same point in their Heisman winning seasons. Oh, and DeShaun had more TDs from scrimmage than both prior Heisman winners. Not only did DeShaun put up strong numbers that were worthy of serious Heisman consideration, he found himself competing against a surprisingly weak field (you could call the 2001 Heisman race the "Race to Determine the Biggest NFL Bust") that ended up with Nebraska option-QB Eric Crouch beating out Florida QB Rex Grossman, Miami QB Ken Dorsey, Oregon QB Joey Harrington, Fresno State QB David Carr, and Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El.

Yikes, talk about a field full of scrubs. It was the perfect storm for DeShaun: he was far-and-away the best RB Heisman candidate, leading a top-ten team in the nation's second largest media market to, initially, a shot at the national title, and later, a legitimate shot at the Pac-10 crown and BCS bowl birth. He was facing off against a bunch of guys who would become the stuff of countless late-night talk-show jokes for their failings in the NFL.

2001 should have ended with DeShaun Foster lifting the Heisman Trophy and celebrating a Rose Bowl birth for the Pac-10 champion Bruins. Instead, 2001 ended with DeShaun ineligible and confined to watching the Blue and Gold choke the season away from the stands.

All thanks to a Ford Expedition.



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