In Ridley Scott’s 1982 neo-noir science fiction flick Bladerunner, Dr. Tyrell sums up this new series succinctly enough when he says to Harrison Ford’s character Roy, “[t]he light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very very brightly, Roy.” Let’s meet the lights that burned twice as bright, but maybe half as long, one hit wonders. Our first installment highlights UTEP running back Donald Buckram, a rare combination of speed and strength that took Conference USA by storm in 2009.
Buckram headed to Sun City from Copperas Cove High School where he was an All-State running back, and a ran 10.5 in the 100 meters at the State Track meet in Austin. He played as a true freshman for the Miners, catching an 80-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Palmer to help seal a victory at UAB. He participated in seven games for UTEP, then ran track for the Miners in the spring.
In 2007 Buckram injured his knee in a car accident and missed a few weeks of camp. Buckram started the opener, thanks to a Marcus Thomas’ suspension, but the knee bothered Thomas for most of the season, and he applied for a redshirt. Buckram entered the 2008 season as the front-runner to start and finally get his combination of speed and power in a feature role. However, a shoulder injury limited him early. He did notch his first 100-yard rushing afternoon against Tulane, but he didn’t feature again that season. He missed spring practice healing up and came into fall camp ready for big things; they came in 2009.
Buckram ran for 108 yards in the opening loss to Buffalo. Two weeks later, against rival New Mexico State, Buckram averaged eight yards a carry and rushed for 113 yards in a rout of the Aggies. After a loss to Texas, Buckram lit up #12 Houston for 262-yards, the second most in school history and four touchdowns. The Walter Camp Foundation named him the National Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.
Then Buckram went on one of the great rushing streaks in CUSA history, rushing for 951-yards at 6.1 yards a carry and fourteen total touchdowns in five games. He twice ran for over 230-yards, back-to-back against Tulane and SMU, and ran for at least 147-yards in each of the each contest. Against Tulane, he became just the fourth player in FBS history to run for 200-yards and have 100 receiving yards. UTEP managed to lose that game. The Miners, by the way, went 1-4 in Buckram’s five-game rampage.
By week ten, Buckram was in range of the FBS rushing lead, trailing a Ryan Matthew of Fresno State by just 69-yards. Buckram’s consecutive 100-yard streak snapped after his injured his knee early in the season finale against Marshall. On the season Buckram ran for a then UTEP single-season record of 1,594, led CUSA and ranked fourth nationally with 132-yards per game, earned first-team All-CUSA, was a semi-finalist for the Doak Walker award, and finished fourth in scoring per game. His school rushing record broke a Miner mark that stood for 60 years. His eighteen rushing touchdowns were first in CUSA and seventh nationally. His 21 total touchdowns were fifth-most in college football that season and Buckram earned Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week Honors three times.
Entering 2010, Buckram made every watch-list and preseason list in the sport, but injuries robbed him of an encore. He suffered a knee injury in fall camp, limiting him to eight games in 2010, rushing for 331-yards and just one score in his final season.
Aaron Jones came along and eclipsed most of Buckram’s records, but his season still stands as a top 10 rushing year in CUSA history and his 21 total touchdowns is still tied for the most among UTEP position players. You can always think about what might have been, if injuries hadn’t played such a significant role, but then, who knows if we would have been treated to that magical 2009 season.