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October 10, 2008Darren McFadden has become an almost-legendary figure in Arkansas.
A native son from Little Rock, McFadden was a five-star prospect in high school, an Arkansas Razorback in college and a top-five draft pick for the Oakland Raiders. But no sooner has one legend left the state than a new one is emerging.
Raised in the same pee-wee system as McFadden, Michael Dyer is poised to take over McFadden's place in Arkansas lore.
Dyer, a junior, has been starting at running back for Little Rock (Ark.) Christian since his freshman year. That season, Dyer exploded onto the scene by rushing for 901 yards on 131 carries. Last season as a sophomore, Dyer rushed for 2,710 yards, more yards than any sophomore in state history.
It was a dream season for Dyer, but the personal accomplishments were only a secondary ingredient.
"That whole season was better than any season I had ever had, not just in how well I did but just playing with everybody and bonding," he said. "It hit me that everything goes by so fast that you can't go back and change things, so I came to the conclusion that if I play hard every game it will be more fun and if I do my part it will be fun."
Dyer already has developed a perspective on what is important in football and is savoring his time in high school and with his teammates.
"After we lost in the state championship (last season), we were talking about how we're all staying together," he said. "We're going to help one another out, so I guess this year it's about having fun and enjoying your time. And when you're enjoying your time, it's about hitting people and working hard.
"That makes it a lot easier, knowing the people behind you are working hard and having fun and can't wait to play on Fridays. It's a team, the coaches, the players, the people in the stands, all that stuff."
Dyer grew up in Little Rock and honed his football skills at a young age, playing sandlot football with his older brother and their friends.
"There was this field by North Little Rock where, back in the day, there was nothing to do but play football until like 9 o'clock," he said. "I started to play with older people. We would hit all day, no pads or anything, and I got used to that. I got used to playing with older people, so when I started playing with people my age, I was like, 'They're not better than my brother.' "
At 10, Dyer would compete against 15-year-olds in an intense atmosphere that even brought out the occasional spectators.
"I remember older people, like around 18 and 20 years old, they would come and watch us," he said. "Of course, there would be fights and stuff but it was always fun."
Though the pickup games lasted up until Dyer was a freshman in high school, the teams that gathered in North Little Rock seldom get together anymore.
"The games split when my brother's friends started getting in trouble," he said. "I was younger, so I didn't get in as much trouble, but the rest of them are in jail. Of my brother's friends, most of them are in jail. There's only about two that we still talk to."
Dyer's abilities on the football field have done a lot to keep him on the straight and narrow off it. His drive to be successful has kept him away from temptation, and even friends that have that have been in trouble recognize the opportunities ahead of Dyer.
Through five games this season, Dyer has already rushed for more than 1,000 yards and is on his way to another monster year.
Though the McFadden comparisons are inevitable, running style should be left out of the equation. In contrast to McFadden's upright, hit-the-seam-and-go style, Dyer (5-9/205) has an electrifying ability to make people miss, keep his feet in traffic and the balance to turn any situation into a potential highlight-reel run.
That ability already has college coaches around the country banging down his door and Dyer already has a top three: Arkansas, Florida and Alabama. All three have offered, along with numerous others. With all of the recruiting attention ready to accelerate to a roller-coaster pace, Dyer is not ready to put much focus on the process.
"I try not to think about it because I keep stressing out about it," he said. "After the season I'll think about it more. I think I'll enjoy my high school days, and when it gets a little more serious and intense I'll think about it."
Keeping the blinders on and staying focused on football seems like a good plan. It has steered Dyer in the right direction so far.