By Craig Sanders
Arizona Daily Wildcat
For Pacific star running back Joe Abdullah, there is nothing better than stepping out of a dark locker room and into the bright lights of a big-time college stadium.
Most importantly, it's a chance to lead tiny Pacific University into yet another battle of David and Goliath. It's also a chance to break out of the shadow of his ex-San Diego State teammate Marshall Faulk. It's a challenge he said he relishes and one he believes makes himself and his teammates stronger.
"I love playing these big-time schools," Abdullah said. "Hopefully it's a learning experience and when we enter conference play we'll be stronger."
Abdullah spent two seasons at San Diego State as a backup running back to 1994 NFL offensive rookie of the year Marshall Faulk.
He redshirted during the 1991 season and didn't touch the ball in 1992. It was in 1994, after sitting out a season, that Abdullah arrived in his hometown of Stockton, Calif., and instantly became the heart and soul of his team.
"It's a team effort. Football isn't an individual sport," said Abdullah, who caught 49 passes last season. "It's up to my offensive line and my offense as a whole. It's not just all me."
That attitude has prevailed throughout Pacific football. It's a spirit of fighting as a team rather than as individuals.
"Pacific is gritty and they'll never give up," said Arizona coach Dick Tomey.
Abdullah's first season as a starting back earned him an All-Big West first-team selection and an All-America team nomination. He ran for 1,075 yards last season on 250 carries. His 272 yards against Arkansas State was the second highest in the Pacific record book and the best ever against a Division 1-A opponent. Nevertheless, he takes his accomplishments in stride.
"I thought it was good," Abdullah said about his nomination as an All-American. "I thought it was kind of exciting. It has made me work harder. It is also good for the team. I like to start the season with a little pressure."
"Abdullah is an all-conference running back," said Pacific coach Chuck Shelton. "He's a real hard-working guy. He allows us to do some things that we wouldn't be able to do without him."
Yet Abdullah was less than stellar against opponents from some of the more prominent conferences. He managed only 20 yards in a 70-21 loss to the eventual national champion, Nebraska, and 12 yards in a loss to Minnesota. To his credit, however, he racked up 93 yards against Oregon State.
"They have a great running back," Tomey said. "He's 220 pounds and just hammers up the middle. You can tell more about a back when he makes 80 or 65 against a good defense then you can when he makes 275 with a lot of room to run.
"He's big and strong and looks fast and looks talented. He's got good instincts."
Abdullah knows that playing Arizona is a challenge and believes that his team must play its best game if it wants to beat the Wildcats.
"I feel we need to run the ball and need to pass the ball," Abdullah said. "We can't be deficient in doing either one; we have to be efficient. If my line blocks well and executes well I could have a good day rushing."
Coach Shelton put it in simpler terms: "You cannot ignore our running game with Joe Abdullah in our backfield."
Abdullah's presence at Pacific has been a shot in the arm for the program. He insists that he did not transfer because he felt he couldn't be productive at San Diego State, but rather, because he felt Pacific was the best place for him.
"It wasn't a matter of playing time," Abdullah said. "I feel I can compete anywhere. It's just that when I meet Coach Shelton I knew where I wanted to be."
Where Abdullah wanted to be was back in his hometown of Stockton. He said that being home wasn't his prime concern, but it did play a part in his decision.
"Staying home was somewhat of a factor," he said. "I got to concentrate more on football and school because I had the support of my family."
He said he doesn't, however, feel he lost anything by remaining at San Diego State for two years. He harbors no bitterness about sitting behind Faulk on the bench.
"Me and Marshall were friends," Abdullah said. "He was doing his thing and I was happy for him. I was pleased to see him get all of his accolades. Marshall was a blessed athlete and it was an enjoyable experience and also a learning experience."
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