Nov. 2, 2007
The Sporting News
With Assistance From The Associated Press
Tulane running back Matt Forté is a finance major who always considered math among his best subjects.
Yet even he has trouble getting his mind around the numbers he's putting up for the Green Wave.
Playing for a 2-6 team with an inexperienced offensive line, Forté (pronounced FOR-TAY) has rushed for more than 200 yards in a game five times this season, surpassing 300 yards twice. With 1,539 yards rushing heading into Saturday's home game against Tulsa, the senior leads the NCAA and already has set Tulane's single-season rushing record.
"It doesn't feel like I ran for that many yards," Forté said this week. "It surprises me sometimes. I'm just thankful I could come out and be able to do that."
The aptly named Forté has been a pillar of strength for a Tulane squad that wasn't expected to do much during a rebuilding season under new coach Bob Toledo.
"I've told my coaching staff: 'You might coach another 10 years or a lifetime and not be involved with a guy like this,"' said Toledo, who coached DeShaun Foster at UCLA and Heisman Trophy winner Charles White as an assistant at USC. "He's doing some things that just don't happen, you know? He's a phenomenal athlete. He's got it all."
Forté goes into Saturday's home game against Tulsa with a string of four straight 200-yard performances. One more this weekend and he ties an NCAA record shared by Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders and Jamario Thomas of North Texas.
As Forté has piled up the gaudy stats, Tulane's sports information department has campaigned for Heisman Trophy votes for him.
"Football is his Forté," reads the campaign slogan. There's a Web site (www.MattForte25.com) featuring an number of highlights, including one in which he disappears in a cluster of players at the line of scrimmage, then seemingly pops out of nowhere for a 65-yard run during a victory over SMU. Forté had a Conference USA-record 342 rushing yards and four touchdowns in that game.
Toledo worries Forté has been overlooked because he plays for a struggling team in a low-profile conference. Tulane, a private university in New Orleans' historic, oak-lined uptown section, is small and quaint compared to the behemoth public universities, such as LSU, that dominate college football.
"They don't compare us to the Southeastern Conference or the Pac-10 or what have you. ... He's being slighted because of that," Toledo said. "When he gets to the NFL, he'll prove to everybody that he's a great, great running back."
Small as it may be, Tulane does produce NFL players. Buffalo Bills quarterback J.P. Losman is one of them, as is Minnesota running back Mewelde Moore, whose career rushing record of 4,364 yards at Tulane is now under threat.
Forté, who missed the last three games of 2006 with a knee injury, has 3,677 career yards, second in school history, with four games to go.
He's run well against NCAA powerhouses, none of which recruited him.
Earlier this season, he rushed for 73 yards against No. 3 LSU, which is the second-best individual rushing total against the Tigers this season. Florida running back Kestahn Moore had 79 yards.
When Forté played high school football in Slidell, a New Orleans suburb on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain, only Tulane and McNeese State and Northwestern State, both Championship Subdivision teams (formerly I-AA), recruited him.
His father, Gene, was a defensive lineman at Tulane before settling in the New Orleans area, where he has worked in the oil industry for nearly 30 years. So the choice was easy.
Forté has since grown into a prototypical running back, at 6-foot-2, 223 pounds. He runs with power and finesse, sometimes ramming tacklers with lowered shoulders and dragging them for several yards, sometimes stutter-stepping out of tight spots.
His college career coincided with a rough stretch for Tulane, however. The Green Wave was 5-6 in 2004, his freshman season. Katrina struck in 2005, forcing the team to spend the fall semester at Louisiana Tech and play every game outside of New Orleans. Tulane went 2-9 that season and 4-8 in 2006, after which coach Chris Scelfo was fired.
"We've been through a lot in my four years here," Forté said. "Going through losing seasons, hurricanes, injuries, a coaching change and all that stuff. It shows you can make a lot of excuses and I could have just given up. But here we are, out here playing hard and trying to win games every Saturday."
Forté will leave Tulane without experiencing a winning season or going to a bowl game, other than all-star games like the Hula Bowl, to which he's been invited.
Yet he has few regrets.
"Athletics isn't forever. You have to get an education and Tulane offers one of the best educations you can get," Forté asserted. "So I can play football, do what I love to do and also get a degree from Tulane. It's a win-win."