Oct. 7, 2009

NCAA.com Div. I Football Blog

By Kyle Kensing

Zipping through defenses, spinning and swirling between impossible gaps, Toddrick Pendland is a blue-and-yellow blur every time the McNeese State Cowboys take the field. When he breaks off one of his frequent long yardage rushes -- the Cowboy tailback is averaging 129.2 yards a game and 7.4 a carry -- Pendland makes it look easy.

Simple as it looks though, becoming a record-breaking rusher is only the culmination of hours upon hours in the weight room, the film room and on the field honing the craft.

"This was one of our best summers working out," Pendland said of off-season workouts -- sessions that he credits for the Cowboys' 3-1 start.

Pendland was named a preseason All-American coming off a junior campaign of over 1400 yards of total offense and 15 touchdowns. Not content to rest on his reputation, Pendland said he focused on getting stronger and quicker.

“He's at least 30-35 percent stronger this year than last,” McNeese State running backs coach Carlos McGee said.

Credit for that improvement went largely to MSU strength coach Zeb Hawkins, Pendland said.

“Toddrick is a great young man that has been fun to watch develop over the last four years,” Hawkins said in an email correspondence. “He was a small guy blessed with speed so my job was to help him gain weight and strength and not slow him down.”

The results on the field suggest a successful effort. A stronger Pendland has helped MSU to a 3-1 start and No. 7 national ranking.

Included in the Cowboys’ start is a road victory over 2007 and '08 national champions Appalachian State to its credit. MSU topped the then-second-ranked Mountaineers, 40-35, thanks in no small part to the contributions of Pendland.

"We had a fourth-and-six and ran a swing route to Todd," McGee said. "The linebacker came on and made a play three or four yards [from the first down marker]. In past years, he might have gone down but was able to break off a big gain."

Pendland earned Southland Conference Player of the Week honors after the ASU win, and McGee said that plays like that one typify the evolution of Pendland's game.

It’s a development that has come over time.

“Since his freshman year…he has gained about 20 pounds and runs low 4.3's in his 40 [yard dash],” Hawkins said.

Pendland is now squatting over 500 pounds, as well as bench pressing and cleaning over 300 pounds – all at 5-foot-9, 178 pounds.

"Todd's work ethic sets him apart," McGee explained.

And the reward is seven rushing touchdowns and two receiving scores through four games, as well as 129 yards on the ground rushing -- which rank him fourth in the nation.

But it’s his ability as a dual threat that makes Pendland dangerous, McGee said.

"He does a tremendous amount of receiving," McGee said. "When I first came here, our running backs primarily were used just on rushes and blocking.

“Now we do a lot of blitz readings and check-downs and run hot routes,” he continued.
Pendland has been a steady weapon for quarterback Derrick Fourroux. The tailback has hauled in around 43 yards per game worth of receptions, a figure McGee said is increased due to Pendland’s ability to break tackles in the open field.

"He's looking down the field, because the first defender just doesn't have a chance [of tackling him]," the coach said.

Workouts including 15-yard single-leg hops have improved Pendland's balance, McGee said, and that's trouble for would-be tacklers.

Pendland is quick to give credit to other areas of the Cowboy offense.

“Good coaching, great teammates. We’ve got a great offensive line, great quarterback, great receiving. We’re all playing together,” he said.

The back has drawn comparisons to San Diego Chargers' breakout running back and kick returner Darren Sproles, a player McNeese State faced in 2003 when he attended Kansas State.

McGee said Pendland’s game is more reminiscent of another rusher who made his bones on Sundays.

"When I see Warrick Dunn, I see Todd," he said.

The former Florida State standout Dunn has rushed for nearly 11,000 yards in the National Football League. At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, the physical similarities are undeniable.

Pendland said he’s not concerned about comparisons, however.

"Whoever they say, that's who I'm compared to. But I just try to go out there and do my own thing," Pendland said, but added: "I do like watching those guys and take a lot of inspiration from them."

Inspiration and perspiration could translate to big things, both for Pendland individually and the Cowboys. His is a name mentioned in NFL Draft discussion across the Internet.

“That’s the dream for every one who plays football at this level, or any level,” he said.

McGee said pro scouts have shown interest in the back, and that one area of concern is Pendland’s “durability.” But Hawkins said he is working with the tailback to keep him healthy.

He was sidelined with a hamstring injury at the end of 2007, but McGee said that has been the only problem Pendland has encountered.

“The Sunday after Appalachian State he was already back on the field running, and dancing around imitating James Brown,” McGee said.

As Pendland aims to help elevate the Cowboys through the Playoffs, it’s that attitude and passion for the sport McGee said will prove vital.

“We’ve been blessed with two great senior running backs, Todd and Elrick Jones,” he said. “The rest of our [running backs] are younger guys, freshman, and those two have led them. If you saw Todd during practice and didn’t know who he was, you wouldn’t think he was any different than those guys – except for the plays he makes.”

It’s a theme Hawkins echoed.

“He brings so much energy and a positive attitude to the off-season and on the field that it’s hard not to love the guy,” he said.