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McFadden's dream even better in reality

Darren McFadden has known since he was 8 years old that this is where he would end up.

As a ninth-grader, he began attending Arkansas football camps and fell further in love with the school. When he made his official visit, he wore a Razorbacks T-shirt.

So when colleges around the nation began recruiting the speedy running back, in reality, they had no chance.

"I grew up watching Arkansas football, said McFadden, the SEC's leading rusher. "Growing up watching them all the time, I was always like, 'Man I wish that could be me one day.' When they offered me a scholarship, it was like a dream come true. And here it is, it just happened."

What McFadden, 19, didn't realize was how well it would all turn out.

The sophomore from North Little Rock has taken a spot in the national spotlight and helped lead Arkansas to a 10-2 record and a place in Saturday's SEC title game.

"He's a tremendous player," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "... He blocks, and he directs snaps, then he throws the ball well. We spend so many hours and a lot of money on recruiting and he's what you look for. I'm not sure who's going to win the Heisman (Trophy), but he's as fine a football player in the country this year as there is."

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound running back is eighth nationally at 123.75 rushing yards a game, and has been mentioned among Heisman hopefuls. After rushing for 1,113 yards as a freshman, McFadden has 1,485 this season. He is, Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said, the all-around package.

"It's work ethic, it's his attitude, it's the way he goes about things," Nutt said. "He practices to get better. I've had the privilege to be around Barry Sanders and they have some of the same characteristics, same qualities. He'll ... run the ball for 45 or 50 yards every day and you'll have to tell him (in practice), maybe don't run as far this time. He'll go catch it, he'll go block for his teammate, Felix Jones. He's just such an unselfish person and he's such a competitor. He's such a competitor."

When Florida (11-1) plays Arkansas Saturday in the Georgia Dome, the game will feature the league's best runner against one of the league's best defenses.

Florida has the nation's No. 5 defense against the run at 69.67 yards a game, tops in the SEC. Arkansas has the SEC's best and the nation's No. 4 rushing offense (236.25). Only USC has neutralized McFadden (nine carries, 42 yards).

"Just watching his style, it's going to be the best back that we've faced," Florida co-defensive coordinator Charlie Strong said. "He's a power runner. He does a great job of getting downfield. ... When you watch him, he's had so many big runs. When you think you have him contained then all of a sudden he ends up breaking a long one on you."

McFadden is part of a dual threat with Jones, who has 80 yards a game.

"They're the best rushing team in the conference," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "It'll be interesting to see them and Florida. That'll be an interesting game."

The Gators boast a veteran-laden front seven who have at times given up big rushing yards, but managed to keep teams out of the end zone. They realize their chances of winning an SEC title rest heavily in stopping McFadden.

"McFadden's been off the charts in my book," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "There aren't many guys that can dominate the way he's dominated. Most guys, when they're in the process of making someone miss, it slows their momentum. This guy makes people miss so cleanly. ... This guy is fantastic."

The responsibility of containing McFadden isn't just in the run. The Razorbacks have a package in which McFadden lines up at quarterback. It's similar to the one Florida uses with receiver Percy Harvin. The difference is, McFadden can run or throw.

And McFadden wants an SEC title. It's all part of the dream he had as a boy growing up watching the Razorbacks.

"It's a great feeling to be (in Atlanta) and in the championship hunt," McFadden said. "It's a dream come true."

Antonya English can be reached at english@sptimes.com.

FAST FACTS

SEC title game

No. 4 UF vs No. 8 Arkansas, 6 p.m. Saturday, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Ch. 10.

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