Darren Sproles: The Smallest Player In The NFL Comes Up Big

Ryan CallahanAnalyst IJanuary 5, 2009

But this past weekend, Sproles posted the third most all-purpose yards in a playoff game ever. He scored two touchdowns, including a game-winning rushing score.

Sproles is the role model of a player truly beating the odds to find success, no matter how big or small you are.

In college at Kansas State, Sproles was arguably the best player ever to don a Wildcat uniform. He holds a total of 23 rushing and all-purpose yardage records in single seasons and for a career. In 2003, he finished fifth in the voting for the Heisman and was the runner-up for the Doak Walker Award, which annually goes to the top running back in college football.

The winner that year was Chris Perry from Michigan. This season, Perry posted 269 yards and two touchdowns for the Bengals, with an average of 2.6 yards-per-rush.

On April 24, 2004 Sproles' mother died at the age of 41 after a five year battle with cancer. He honors her by wearing a charm that says "R.I.P. Mom". He also decided to stay in school to earn his degree after his mom's death because she truly wanted him to graduate college.

Despite being named the second-best running back in college football, Sproles did not hear his name called until the end of the fourth round of that year's NFL Draft, when the San Diego Chargers selected him with the 29th pick.

Teams were concerned about his size, but the Chargers needed a good return man. At that time, the Chargers had, without a doubt, the best runner in the game in LaDainian Tomlinson, and a solid backup in Michael Turner. Sproles would be the Chargers kick and punt returner.

In 2005, Sproles' first season in the NFL, he was a very effective return man for the Chargers. His season-long was a 58-yard kick return in a win against the New York Giants. The next season, he was out for the year with an injury sustained in the preseason.

In the spring, he said he would field 2,000 balls to help practice fielding punts because he commonly bobbled them the previous season. In 2007, he did not bobble a punt.

Fast forward to this season —the Chargers let Michael Turner go and he is now a star in Atlanta. LaDainian Tomlinson has been struck by injuries the entire year, and will be very limited in the Chargers' first playoff game, hosting the Indianapolis Colts.

When given an opportunity, Sproles took advantage of it.

Sproles made a key mistake by fumbling at the two-yard-line right when the Chargers were about to score, but he did not let his mistakes come back to haunt him.

At the end of the game, Sproles had rushed the ball 23 times for 105 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 45 yards. He averaged 24 yards on three punt returns and 26.5 yards on four kickoff returns.

Simply put, Sproles was everywhere. The sweetest moment of the game was when Sproles sprinted off the edge past the Colts' defense for a 22-yard rushing touchdown six minutes and 20 seconds into overtime.

There are reports now that Tomlinson will miss the remainder of the playoffs because he needs surgery to correct his groin injury. Although the Chargers have not placed him on injured reserve, there is little hope he will make a come back.

This means Sproles will get another shot as the starter this Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Sproles says he believes he can be an every-down back in this league.

With LT's career winding down, and multiple injuries marring him at different points this season, we may soon see one of the most electrifying players in the NFL be on the field more and more for the Chargers.