Mahatma Gandhi was 5 feet 6 inches tall, and he brought freedom to India. James Madison, the fourth president and author of the U.S. Constitution, was said to be about 5 feet 4 inches tall. T.E. Lawrence, the British solider made famous by 6-foot-2 Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, was actually the same size as the Mid-American Conference's leading rusher last season.
No one ever talks about Eugene Jarvis' statistics, such as the time he rushed for 84 yards on 16 carries in one half against one of the best defenses in the country at Ohio State. No one ever talks about how the junior is college football's leading returning rusher from last season after totaling 1,669 yards.
No, when people see Eugene Jarvis they notice one thing from media, to opposing coaches who recruited him, to the fans that sit in the top rows of Kent State's Dix Stadium they notice his 5-foot-5-inch frame.
"I'm so tired of that, man, it's unbelievable," Jarvis said. "But I don't let it get to me anymore, because (Ive been) hearing that all since I've been playing football. It's pretty much the only thing they can really pick out in my game is my size as a knock on me. They can't really say anything about (my) production."
Most two-time Pittsburgh Post Gazette Player of the Year winners go on to play at Bowl Championship Series conferences, and for Jarvis it looked as if he was headed to West Virginia. Even though Jarvis rushed for 2,196 yards and scored 38 touchdowns in his senior season, West Virginia went in another, taller, direction. After flirting with Akron, Jarvis found a home with Kent State, and, three years later, is about to vault nearly every school rushing record.
"When we were recruiting Eugene, we fell in love with him right off the bat," KentState coach Doug Martin said. "He was one of the best punt returners I had ever seen in high school, and the way he made people miss just big play after big play it was obvious that he was something really special."
Kent State didn't wait long after seeing Jarvis' high school film, offering him a scholarship the spring before his senior year. Jarvis had finished his career with 4,300 rushing yards and 77 touchdowns in his last two seasons, and Martin knew that more teams would be coming after the Pittsburgh Central Catholic standout running back. They did, and then promptly forgot about his statistics.
"The recruiting played out on him was very heavy," Martin said. "There was a lot of big schools that were recruiting Eugene that were a little reluctant to pull the trigger, I guess because of his height. And that became a real chip on his shoulder. We were one of the guys that really stood up for him, (and) said we believed in him."
Former Kent State defensive lineman Colin Ferrell, now with the Indianapolis Colts, remembers Jarvis' first practice well. Ferrell said he went to tackle Jarvis, but instead Ferrell felt a powerful thump around his chest. He had no idea what had just happened, until he turned around and saw Jarvis running down the sideline.
"When he hits the hole, he hits it at 100 mph," Ferrell said.
West Virginia's loss was Kent State's gain. Despite his size, Jarvis is one of the strongest players on the team, and his on-field vision has become his hidden attribute. Jarvis squatted more than 600 pounds this off-season, which is about three times his body weight. And his on-the-field vision has helped him find holes when it appeared there was nowhere to run.
"I can see the hole, and see things develop, and things of that nature, that's just a God-given talent right there," Jarvis said.
It's at this point when the ever-modest Eugene Jarvis would stop reading this article. Not only has his size been the heart of the story, but also his personal stats have been reeled off much like a hall-of-fame induction. That's not who Jarvis is all about. After rushing for 230 yards on 30 carries at Ohio, Jarvis was the nation's leading rusher and was seeing his name on Heisman lists. But he never gave himself too much credit.
It was the coaches, he said. It was his offensive line (who he gives credit in nearly every football conversation), he said. It was defense, he said. It was never the guy who ran over safeties for extra yards, or who juked past a defender for the open hole. No, it's not him; it's a team effort. Jarvis was proud of his numbers, he was honored to be a part of the Heisman race for a short time, and being named all-MAC was incredible.
But 2007 was a disappointment. After beating Ohio 33-25, the team collapsed, failing to win another game and finishing with just three wins. For all of Jarvis' accomplishments, injuries were the statistics that impacted the Flashes the most in 2007. By the time Kent State played Temple in the second to last game, the Flashes were on their fourth-string quarterback, and Jarvis was facing up to eight men in the box. He finished that game with just 57 yards, but bounced back in the season finale against Buffalo with 183 yards.
"Last season was a good season, statistic wise, for me," Jarvis said. "As far as a team, we didn't do as well as we expected, and in football that's all that really matters what the team does. Any individual can do good things, but they don't have anything to show for it if their team gets beat."
As a team, Kent State has many question marks for this upcoming season: for one, the quarterback position could be up for grabs, and the defense has to rely on a young secondary. But one thing they don't have to worry about is the running back, or as Martin and Jarvis prefers, the running backs. Sophomore Andre Flowers saw his share of playing time last season and had an impressive spring, while Jarvis's spring playing time was limited. New offensive coordinator A.J. Pratt is looking to pass more this season, but Martin said Jarvis and Flowers will be the key for the new dual-back formations this fall, which may hurt Jarvis in the stat column.
"This year he could run for less yards but have a better year because hopefully we're going to have a healthy quarterback and have a little bit more balance on offense," Martin said. "The key for (Jarvis) is to keep his rushing average up and hopefully (score) more touchdowns."
Rushing isn't the only thing Jarvis is capable of doing. His 23 catches last season were second on the team, and his three touchdown receptions were the most. Whether those numbers reflect the quarterback problems in 2007, or Jarvis' receiving ability is another story. But one thing is clear: Jarvis is not a one-dimensional back.
"When you get him involved in the open field, he's really dangerous, and the passing game does that," Martin said. "If we can develop him a little bit more on the receiver side of things, I think it can really help our offense and help make him a lot more effective too."
Whether it's running the ball or catching the ball, Jarvis has proven that he is a Division I player who happens to be same height as Woody Allen, and that may help him. This season, like last season, all of the starting offensive linemen for Kent State are taller then 6-foot. When Jarvis runs behind them, he becomes almost invisible to a linebacker's naked eye, and they don't realize he's there until, like Ferrell, they feel something hit their chests, and see No. 6 running for six.
The one game that sticks out in Jarvis' mind from 2007 is the Ohio game. But it's not because of the 230 yards, or because Martin said his running back wasn't feeling 100 percent that day, it's because he saw "it." From the first day Jarvis stepped on campus, Martin (then in his second season) and the coaching staff have been talking about "the vision." The vision is every player doing his part, playing the right way and winning the game.
If that's the dream at Kent State in 2008, then Eugene Jarvis is the tallest person on the roster. "A lot of people know about me now; a lot of defenses will be gearing toward stopping me, so I had to put more work in (this off-season) to receive better results," Jarvis said. "I'll do whatever it takes to play for a MAC Championship. Hopefully we'll show people that we're not the old Kent State."
Joe Harrington is the sports editor at the Daily Kent Stater
Reprinted from 2008 MAC Football Preview
Available Now - MAC Report Online.com's 2008 MAC Football Preview e-magazine, featuring the most in-depth analysis and feature-packed preseason MAC football publication ever! Get your copy today by clicking here.