One for the record book|Fletcher’s goal is four consecutive 1,000-yard seasons

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 5, 2009

JACKSON — Damion Fletcher has a chance to become the ninth player in college football history to rush for 1,000 yards in each of his four seasons.

And he almost threw it all away.

Fletcher was reinstated last month after his arrest, suspension and March plea deal for firing a gun within the city limits of Hattiesburg. He was barred from spring practice and kept away from his teammates’ summer workouts for several months.

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“I’m very excited about getting back on the field,” Fletcher said. “This is probably the longest I’ve gone without touching a football since high school. Not being able to compete has been tough for me.”

Fletcher and his teammates reported Tuesday in preparation for what could be a special season. The Golden Eagles were 20th in the nation in total offense (433.5 yards per game) last season, and with Fletcher, quarterback Austin Davis and wide receiver DeAndre Brown returning with a year of experience in coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense, they’re expected to turn up the juice.

Even though he puts multiple receivers on the field, Fedora’s offense starts with the running game. And he’s excited about the chance to watch Fletcher run for more records.

“He could be the ninth player in the history of the game to rush for over a 1,000 yards four years in a row — in the history of the game,” Fedora said with eyes slightly wide. “You think about how long the history of football is and there’s been only eight guys do that ever? That’s pretty cool.”

Fletcher, an unheralded recruit from Biloxi who got lost in the shuffle created when Hurricane Katrina forced him to leave the state temporarily, has been rewriting the school’s record book since he arrived four summers ago.

Yet all those accomplishments were nearly marred by Fletcher’s decision to fire a gun into the air multiple times outside an area apartment complex popular with players. He was sentenced to six months probation and 40 hours of community service. Now that his sentence is completed, the misdemeanor offense will be wiped off his permanent record.

Some wondered if missing all that time working out will affect the former Conference USA offensive player of the year’s final season. But Fedora thinks missing spring practice and the extra wear and tear may help the 5-foot-10, 177-pound running back.

And his teammates believe he kept up, even if he did it alone.

“I think it was a minor setback, just an off-the-field incident,” Davis said. “But he worked very hard all spring. He worked out and he tried to stay connected to the team. So I don’t expect him to miss a beat.”

The NCAA’s active career leader in rushing yards reached the top of Southern Miss’ career list in just three seasons. With 1,313 yards in 2008, he pushed his career total to 4,287 yards. He has averaged 112.8 yards per game over his career with 21 100-yard rushing games and 37 rushing touchdowns.