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Butts is NFL's top rusher _ no ifs or ands about it

Two thoughts that may come to mind when considering that seven weeks into the season the leading rusher in the National Football League is San Diego's Marion Butts: Who?

And how?

Butts, 24, is not your typical NFL running back. At 6 feet 1 and 248 pounds, Butts is a barrel of motion. He played two seasons at Florida State where he carried the ball 64 times , spending much of his time on the block and on the bench. He was a seventh-round draft pick by San Diego in 1989, and scored nine touchdowns and rushed for a team-high 683 yards as a rookie.

This season, Butts has become the main weapon in the Chargers' ground-heavy attack. He has gained 581 yards on 121 carries and scored three touchdowns. He moved into the league rushing lead when he gained 76 yards last week and Denver's Bobby Humphrey was limited to 5 yards because of an injury.

This week, Butts will lead the Chargers against the Tampa Bay Bucs' 20th-ranked run defense.

"I got a chance to perform here and I'm getting the job done," Butts said following a recent game in Pittsburgh. "You know what they say, "You can't keep a good man down.'

"

At Florida State, Butts found himself playing behind Dayne Williams at fullback and blocking for runners like Sammie Smith. He was also a special-teams standout.

"I didn't really get a chance there. When I did, there was a lot of pressure," Butts said. "I produced when I touched the ball."

Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden does not disagree. He said he is surprised at Butts' professional success.

"He's worked hard enough and he deserves it," Bowden said Tuesday. "But I am kind of amazed at his running ability.

"It looks like I underestimated him when he was here."

Bowden remembers watching Butts play at Worth County High in Sylvester, Ga.

"He had a reputation as being a blocker. I liked his running ability, but he was one of those guys who was too big, he can't run. People always said he wasn't a lane changer; he'd run over you, but he didn't have any moves," Bowden said.

Butts said he doesn't keep in touch with any of his former Florida State mates _ "that's just the way it is" _ but holds no grudges about his lack of exposure.

"You can't dwell on the past. I'm not a dweller," he said.

Butts has overcome obstacles before. He broke a leg as a junior in high school and was told he would never play again. He was an all-state player as a senior. He went on to play one season at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M Junior College and then transferred to Florida State.

Prior to his junior season in 1988, he was switched from running back to inside linebacker. Three games into the schedule, he moved back to offense.

He had no idea if he would even be drafted after leaving FSU following his junior season.

The Chargers selected him in the seventh round _ 183rd overall _ figuring he would be a good special-teams player and a blocking fullback. Instead, he became one of the league's top running backs.

"He's a real load," Bucs coach Ray Perkins said.

Butts is soft-spoken, and reserved about his success. He said he tries not to listen to fans or pay much attention to press buildups.

"My goal is to be better than I was last year," Butts said. "Everyone has dreams. All I needed was a chance."

A LATE BLOOMER

Marion Butts has gained more yards as a pro than he did in college.

At Florida State

Year Att. Yards Avg. TDs

1987 (So.) 35 199 5.7 1

1988 (Jr.) 29 133 4.6 3

At San Diego

Year Att. Yards Avg. TDs

1989 170 683 4.0 9

1990 121 581 4.8 3

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