Mealey ready to get back on the field after injury

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 19, 1998

MICHAEL KIRAL / L’Observateur / August 19, 1998

BATON ROUGE – Rondell Mealey has had quite an offseason.

He has been featured on the cover of The Sporting News’ regional preseason college football magazine with Kevin Faulk and Cecil Collins, the latter having since been dismissed from the team. He has beeninterviewed by Athlon Sports for their preseason magazine. But theDestrehan graduate has not let all the attention affect his personality.

“I act like I was not getting any attention,” Mealey said. “I try to be likeit was when I wasn’t get talked to. I take it in stride.”Before Collins’ dismissal, all the talk was about the LSU backfield, considered to be the best in the nation. Faulk, the Southeastern Confer-ence’s leading rusher a year ago, passed up the NFL draft to return for his senior year at LSU.

Collins was coming back after suffering a season-ending injury against Vandebilt last October. Before the injury, Collins had been one of thenation’s leading rushers with over 500 yards. And Mealey was coming off a222-yard, two touchdown performance against Notre Dame in the Independence Bowl, earning the game’s most valuable player award.

Even with Collins no longer with the team, the Tigers should still not miss a beat. Faulk and Mealey, both members of the Tigers’ recruiting class of1995, are LSU’s best backfield duo since the days of Dalton Hilliard and Garry James in the early 1980s. And even though Faulk is the one thatoften gets much of the spotlight, Mealey said he doesn’t mind taking a backseat to his backfield partner.

“If I wanted to backup anybody, I would want to back up a Heisman Trophy candidate,” Mealey said of Faulk.

Most teams would not mind having a Mealey as a starter either. The juniortailback has averaged nearly six yards per carry his first two years after redshirting his freshman year. Mealey saw action in all 11 games last yearand was the ninth-leading rusher in the SEC with 664 yards and seven touchdowns. He had 100-yard games against Auburn, Akron and Kentucky.Mealey was a Freshman All-SEC choice in 1996 after rushing for 603 yards and 10 touchdowns. He started his college career in style, rushing161 yards and scoring the winning touchdown against Houston. A couple ofweeks later, Mealey would enter the LSU record books, tying the then- school record with four touchdowns against New Mexico State.

Mealey has been busy this summer rehabbing a foot injury suffered in spring practice. He recently had the pin taken out of his foot and has beencleared to practice although he did not know if would be able to play in the Tigers’ season opener against Arkansas State Sept. 12.”I am going to put it in God’s hands and not rush it,” Mealey said. “I amgoing to work as hard as I can for as long as I can until I can’t go anymore.

It is up to me.”Mealey said the Tigers’ abundance of backs allows him the luxury to wait until the foot is better before seeing game action.

“The goal is to go in and don’t rush it,” Mealey said. “I can wait until it is100 percent. We have a lot of backs so it is not a rush thing right now.”But do not take that to mean Mealey is not inching to get back onto the field. On the contrary, he recently went up to special teams and runningback coach Michael Haywood and asked to be put back on the first team special teams duties.

“Rondell came to me and told me he wanted me to be on the front line for special teams,” Haywood said. “That is what I am looking for in a player.”Mealey said he likes special teams because they allow you to make something happen.

“I wanted to let coach Haywood know I wanted to get in and help out,” Mealey said.

Comparing his style to the other LSU backs, Mealey said he does not have the shake and bake moves of Faulk but is more of a straight ahead runner.

“When I first came here, I thought my style was funny compared to Kevin’s and Kendall’s (Cleveland). They were smooth runners. But people kepttelling me not to change. I can run straight. Straight to the endzone.”Mealey said the seniors helped him out when he was a freshman and that he feels he has an obligation to help the younger players on the team now.

“I feel kind of old,” Mealey joked. “I feel like a senior. I let other guysknow what is going on. I like it much better being here three to four yearsthan coming in as a freshman and having everything coming at you.”And according to Haywood, Mealey is a great example for the younger players. Haywood said what makes Mealey such a good back is the amountof time he spends studying the game and working to be a better player.

“It says a lot about him and his desire and work ethic,” Haywood said referring back to Mealey’s wanting to be on special teams. “He is anexample for the other players on the team.”

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