While a 254-pound running back steals the headlines in Wisconsin, another player of similar build is beginning to pick up steam in the land of talented running backs.
For years, Tom Osborne produced talented backs like Lawrence Phillips, Mike Rozier, Roger Craig, and Ahman Green. Now in his second year as Osborne's replacement, Frank Solich is finally beginning to turn out his first star in the backfield. But it's not DeAngelo Evans, as was expected in the preseason. Instead, junior Dan Alexander has persevered to become the Cornhuskers' feature back.
Alexander had the biggest game of his career against Colorado on Nov. 26 when he rushed for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
Despite playing one game at fullback and missing almost two others due to injury, Alexander finished second on the team in rushing this season behind quarterback Eric Crouch, and has forced Tennessee to set up a game plan to stop him in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 2 (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).
"He's very gifted, a talented guy," says Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer. "He's exceptional at getting the tough yards, and can run away from you. It's very impressive considering his size."
"He's got breakaway speed," adds Alexander's Volunteer counterpart, Travis Henry. "He can run inside, outside. He's a powerful back."
It has been a long road to success for Alexander, who was also expected to carry a big load in the Big XII Championship Game before he hyperextended his right hand in the first quarter and was forced to sit out the remainder of the game.
"I rolled over it, so my fingers touched the back of my hand," says Alexander, who was disappointed as he was unable to reach his goal of 1,000 rushing yards. "It got bent back so far that the skin couldn't stretch that far and ripped."
In practice, Husker trainers have kept the hand taped, but Alexander does not expect it to be a problem on Jan. 2.
"They are taping it, so that my fingers can't bend back," he says. "They don't want to rip open the palm again."
The hand laceration is just the latest in a list of injuries that have slowed Alexander down since he arrived in Lincoln in the fall of '96. As a redshirt freshman in 1997, he tore his left ACL during the spring game, but bounced back four months later and was able to play six games. As a sophomore last year, he injured his right LCL and missed the Huskers' season finale and bowl game.
"Last year, (when) I hurt my LCL," explains Alexander, "I should have completely tore everything in my knee, but because my legs and ligaments were strong, only one of them got hurt. I didn't hurt any cartilage. Same thing with my ACL a couple of years ago. That should have probably been a completely blown knee there too. I got away with a scratch compared to what could have happened. I feel I've been fortunate and just been in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Alexander finished second on the Huskers in rushing, averaging 6.5 yards per carry.
Alexander is a legend in Nebraska's weight room. While improving his speed -- he runs a 4.53 40 -- Alexander has also been one of the program's best lifters. In 1997, he was the first freshman to win Nebraska's lifter of the year, and was a finalist in '98.
Alexander's prowess in the weight room follows his mantra of doing whatever it takes to improve or to help the team win. When fullback Willie Miller was sidelined for the Kansas game, Alexander capably filled in, and did not complain that he only got three carries.
"All I ask from my coaches is that they always keep me on top of things, that they tell me what they want to do with me," Alexander says. "I don't want to be a part of the horror stories that you hear at some schools where coaches are playing games with some of their players, not really keeping them informed. My coaches have always kept me informed, always told me that I had a chance to move to fullback.
"As far as I am concerned, as long as my coaches have the best interests of the team in mind, and are trying to do what's best for me, I am willing to go anywhere, and do anything for them because I want to be a team player."
Off the field, he is the same way. Raised in a Christian home, Alexander is very active in the community, speaking at schools and churches. He was recently named to the AFCA Good Works team.
"Once I got here, I saw that the Lord put me in a position where I can do some good," he says. "He didn't just make me a good football player so that I can play football. He put me here so I could hopefully be a positive influence on the next generation of kids or even helping out older people. I really tried to make it a mission to go out into the community around here. I think there is a responsibility to give back to the community and not just try to use people or see how much you can get out of the program; you have to see how much you can give back."
Alexander put up good numbers this season -- 865 yards on 134 carries, while starting just nine games. Since he was given the opportunity in midseason to carry the workload, he has excelled, rushing for at least 100 yards in the four games he was given significant carries.
Nebraska lost its chance to compete for the national championship this year, but the Huskers will be in the thick of it again next year; Nebraska has its running back in place to challenge for No. 1.