Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall was "kind of a
big deal" coming out of Niles West high school. As a five-star prospect,
he was rated the No. 1 recruit in the state of Illinois by Scout.com He committed to Ron Turner and the Illini where re-wrote the Illinois single season rushing record book.
Taken 23rd in the 2008 NFL
Draft, it took him a year, but he usurped Willie Parker as starting
tailback in 2009. He began living up to the lofty expectations he had as
a first round pick. The Skokie native ran for 1,100+ yards on a 4.6
ypc average, but his team struggled immensely.
Back to Shard, this year his Steelers flourished as he ran for almost
1,300 yards, albeit on a less-than-impressive 3.9 ypc. Still, he's one
of the leading candidates to win Super Bowl 45 MVP.
The Steelers have always had a history and reputation as a
running-first team, and they're at their very best when they have a
workhorse back carrying the load. Rashard has overcome the fumbling
problems he had his rookie year (the same main issue that troubled him
his first two years in Champaign) to become that dominant back.
And his work has inspired the most recent Illinois starting tailback
Mikel LeShoure, who also wore Mendenhall's jersey #5. Like Mendenhall,
LeShoure took over the starting tailback job in Champaign towards the
end of his sophomore season, then became the overwhelming focal point of
the offense his junior year.
"When Mike Locksley was recruiting me, he was telling me that if Rashard was going to the NFL,
which they thought he would, then I would get my same high school
number. Turns out it worked out that way," LeShoure told me in 2009. "As
a committee, we're replacing a really good running back in Rashard.
And this has been a really good running back school. We feel like we
have got shoes to fill, after a running back like that."
This will be the second year in a row that the Super Bowl features a
star running back from UI. Pierre Thomas was a star for the New Orleans
Saints, as they won it all last year.
"I keep in tune with what those guys are doing. Pierre and Rashard
are both playing really, really good right now. Coach talks about that,
you know? He says if we go out and we do what we've got to do, we can
be in those guys' shoes too. They've (Thomas and Mendenhall) kind of
given us the example of how to get there and how to do it," LeShoure
Leshoure certainly did that, as he re-wrote all of Mendenhall's records in 2010,
and then followed Shard's lead in skipping his senior year by declaring
for the draft in a news conference at his high school alma mater.
In September 2008, Mendenhall became the first professional athlete to sign an endorsement deal with Champion in ten years.
You can follow him on Twitter @thesportsbank
He also does a regular guest spot each week for Chicagoland Sports Radio.com
Tags: illini, katrell mendenhall, mendenhall, mendenhall pittsburgh steelers, mendenhall steelers, mikel leshoure rashard mendenhall, Rashard Mendenhall, rashard mendenhall mikel leshoure, Steelers, steelers super bowl 45, super bowl 45, Super Bowl XLV