SENIOR BOWL Top backs lead North Saturday
Penn State's Larry Johnson and Kentucky's Artose Pinner will be highlighted.
MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Larry Johnson and Artose Pinner entered their senior seasons as two of the best college running backs around, but they had little name recognition.
Now, they have the stats to match the talent.
Penn State's Johnson and Kentucky's Pinner lead the North running backs for Saturday's Senior Bowl, hoping to raise their profiles even more before the NFL draft.
"I know there's a lot of nonbelievers out there, who think it was a fluke," said Pinner, who easily led the Southeastern Conference in rushing as a senior. "You want to show everyone it was not a fluke and I can play against the best in the country."
Outstanding senior season
Johnson's final season was even better. He became just the ninth Division I-A player to gain 2,000 yards in a season, finished third in the Heisman Trophy balloting and claimed the Maxwell and Walter Camp player of the year awards.
His career tally entering the season: 866 yards.
Johnson figures the long wait for stardom will help him cope if he's not an instant NFL star.
"I think that's why I was put through that situation, so I can learn patience before going to the next level," said Johnson, who rushed for 2,087 yards and 20 touchdowns. "It's not going to just happen when you want it to happen, but hopefully down the road it will happen.
"It may not be the first year and it may not be the second year, but it's going to definitely come in its own time."
Penn State defensive end Michael Haynes, a North teammate, isn't much help to his South counterparts looking to stop Johnson.
"I really couldn't tell them anything," said Haynes, a first-team AP All-American. "It's one of those things where you keep your eyes up. Do not duck your head or you'll get a concussion. I've seen it before."
Not just size and speed
Haynes figures it's not just Johnson's 225-pound frame and deceptive speed that make him good.
"More than anything else, he has that attitude about him that really makes him good," he said. "Confidence. Extreme confidence. He's not cocky in any way, but it's the confidence and determination that he brings to the table. And I know he'll do good at the next level."
Johnson figures his three low-profile seasons handicapped him in the Heisman race.
"I think so, because I never really had a chance to put myself out there," he said. "And I felt every single game, I had to rush for 200 yards. I had to play catch-up, and I did a little bit of that in the last few games.
"But people are going to write what they want to write and believe what they want to believe. All I had to do was go out there and try to perform the best that I could."
Pinner's 1,414 yards were 723 more than he managed his first three years with the Wildcats. He spent his first two seasons at fullback.
Pinner viewed the Senior Bowl as the proper cap to his senior year: "This is where all the best seniors come to perform."