Calhoun: One Tough Back

Editor's Note:  This is the second of a four-part series, exclusive to OSR, on four Kansas Staters - Don Calhoun, Ken Swenson, Steve Henson and Ken Mahoney - who will be inducted into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame in Wichita on Sunday. This article first appeared in the Kansas State Official Sports Report on Sept. 30, 2009. To signup for the free subscription to the Kansas State Official Sports Report, visit www.officialsportsreport.com.

by Mark Janssen, Senior Writer, Kansas State Official Sports Report 

MANHATTAN, Kan. - Quiz: Name the Kansas State running back that was never truly good enough to be a go-to Wildcat, but was good enough to play nine seasons in the NFL?  Hint: As a pro, he teamed in the same backfield as O.J. Simpson in Buffalo.

Answer: Don Calhoun, 1971-73.

An all-state running back for Wichita North High School, it was KSU legend Veryl Switzer, who gets credit for the recruitment of Calhoun to the Wildcats.

"I had quite a few offers, but it came down to Kansas State and Kansas," reflected Calhoun, who is back in Wichita working as a truck driver. "I think Veryl Switzer was here every week really pushing me more than the football coaches. He talked me into going to the school that was going to beat KU.

"K-State was the up and coming team back then," Calhoun continued. "They had Clarence Scott, Mack Herron, and several other top players. I saw them beat Oklahoma, 55-28 (59-21, 1969), and that's what really sold me."

Not allowed to compete as a freshman in 1970, Calhoun ran behind Bill Butler, Isaac Jackson, Bill Holman and Tim McLane as a sophomore the following season.

In 1972, the 5-foot-11, 200-pounder led K-State in rushing with 608 yards, but as a senior he ran behind Jackson, who became only the second 1,000-yard back in school history.

"I felt I was the better back (than Jackson), but they moved me to fullback," said Calhoun, who rushed for 539 yards in his senior season. "I wanted to play, so I accepted it. I was a team player."

At the time of his graduation, Calhoun's 1,300 all-time rushing yards ranked fourth in K-State history only behind Jackson (2,182), Cornelius Davis (1,873) and Butler (1,400).

Calhoun called coach Vince Gibson a "hard-nosed coach," who made you want to play hard.

"I can still hear him saying, 'Don't be ashamed to get knocked down, be ashamed if you stay down'," said Calhoun, who had a pair of 100-yard games as a Wildcat during his junior year - 132 vs. BYU, and 104 vs. Tampa.

Calhoun was drafted by Buffalo in the 10th round, where he became a teammate to one of the greatest of all time in O.J. Simpson.

"I knew I could play," Calhoun said. "Clarence (Scott) would come back and watch workouts and he kept telling me that I could make it ... just keep working."

With 1974 being an NFL strike year, Calhoun started all four exhibition games, but when the strike ended, it was Mr. Simpson in, and Calhoun out.

"He could run, but he wouldn't block anyone," quipped Calhoun of Simpson.

Calhoun played nine NFL seasons in Buffalo, New England and Philadelphia ending his career with 4,000-plus rushing yards and 25 touchdowns. In 1976, he had four straight 100-yard games with the Patriots, and his 5.6 yards per carry led all rushers in the NFL.