The Tiny Tank: A Darren Sproles Tribute
12 July 2017 Eagles News
“I heard I was too small to play in high school, in college, in the NFL. It just made me work harder.”
This is the mindset of running back Darren Sproles.
Born in small town Waterloo, Iowa, Sproles had a rough upbringing as he battled a speech impediment he had while growing up. Rather than letting the hate from the outside world get to him, Sproles decided to let his performance on the field do the talking for him.
In high school he rushed for a total of 5,230 yards and 79 touchdowns and was voted All-American by Student Sports Magazine.
Sproles was able to transition to college football quickly and he rapidly became a sensation at his alma mater, Kansas State University. His best year came in 2003 when he led the entire FBS in rushing yards with 1,986. The same year he led KSU to their first Big 12 Conference championship where his team won 35-7 over Oklahoma University. At the end of the college football season, Sproles ended up finishing fifth place in the Heisman Trophy voting.
After his successful college campaign, Sproles was ready for the NFL lifestyle.
His first team in the NFL, the (originally) San Diego Chargers, drafted young Sproles in the 4th round of the 2005 NFL Draft. Sproles was able to soak in knowledge from veteran leadership and learn from Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson during his first year. An unfortunate injury placed him on IR in 2006, but he soon returned to play for 4 more seasons before entering free agency and moving on to his next team.
The New Orleans Saints had just won Super Bowl XLIV after their impressive 2009 campaign. A year later, Sproles decided to sign with the Saints and see if he could make a strong impact in the special teams department. The Saints had just selected running back Mark Ingram in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft but that did not stop Sproles from making his presence feel made.
Sproles was heavily used in the passing game for a good majority of the next three years; from 2011-2013 Sproles led the Saints among all running backs in receiving yards.
On March 13, 2014, Sproles was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a 5th round draft pick. Former teammate and quarterback Drew Brees said the following on the same day Sproles was traded:
“You only see a Darren Sproles type of player come around once in your career.”
A special athlete was soon headed to a team in need of an x-factor.
In his first year as an Eagle, Sproles was named to his first All-Pro team as a return specialist after leading the NFL in punt return yards (506). He was also elected to his first career Pro Bowl—the first of many.
A rough patch went by for many Eagles fans as All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy was released after Sproles’ first season in Philadelphia. The Eagles decided to sign DeMarco Murray from the rival Dallas Cowboys as well as Ryan Mathews during the offseason to make up for the loss of McCoy. It was rumored that Sproles would see a reduced role due to the additions to the running back committee.
This, however, was not the case.
Sproles excelled beyond belief. In 2015, he led the NFL in punt return touchdowns and was elected to his second straight Pro Bowl. He was also voted to his first First Team All-Pro selection.
After the 2016 season, Sproles had achieved consecutive Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro selections and set the Eagles franchise record in punt return touchdowns with 4 (tied with former Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson) in just three seasons.
Sproles is now heading into his fourth season with the Eagles and it is probable that it will be his last season in the NFL.
The durable scatback will have one of the best reputations in the league as an all-purpose and special team athlete. Sproles currently sits at 8th on the NFL’s All-Purpose Yards Leader chart with 19,011 yards. Looking at the 2017 season, it is very possible Sproles could climb up to the No. 5 spot where legend wide receiver Tim Brown currently lies. He would only need 671 yards to do so.
For someone who has played in the NFL for what will be his 13th season, Sproles is a living example of how size cannot determine how large someone’s heart is for the game of football. His passion for the game and his tough nature has led him to great success as a running back in the NFL.
“It makes me feel good that some people underestimate me and then I go out and prove them wrong…They make short jokes, they’ll say things about that but that’s OK.”
Wishing you the best of luck in 2017,
Eagles fans everywhere