Small players making it big |

Small players making it big

The Associated Press

New England running back Danny Woodhead jokingly asked if he could have a step-stool the next time he was required to speak at a podium.

It’s a question that could be asked after just about every NFL game this season with diminutive dynamos like Woodhead, Darren Sproles, Jim Leonhard and Antoine Winfield coming up big week in and week out.

Despite a nation of fans and fantasy owners putting them on pedestals, all of these players have to look up at the average American male, who stands 5-foot-10.

Yet, these petite players are anything but puny when it comes to their performances and impact.

In an era where bigger, beefier bodies and muscular mayhem rule the trenches like never before, some of the biggest plays are coming from the league’s littlest players.

They dart across the football fields every weekend, delivering some of the biggest hits and best highlights with running, receiving, returning and tackling skills that counter their critics and even seem to defy physics.

Maybe the best of the bunch is Sproles, San Diego’s 5-6 tailback who turned a short pass into a 57-yard touchdown that put away the Denver Broncos on Monday night, a fitting finish to a Week 10 dominated by the wonderful wee.

In Foxborough, Mass., Woodhead, a running back from Chadron State who’s just shy of 5-8, overshadowed the annual Tom Brady-Peyton Manning duel. He ignited the Patriots’ 31-28 win by scoring on a weaving 36-yard burst in which he displayed a masterful mix of power, speed and agility and then made a sensational tackle on the ensuing kick return.

“I do everything to make the play, whether I’m a runner, a receiver or on a kickoff,” Woodhead said. “Maybe (I carry) a little chip, but I’m not too worried what everybody thinks about my size, weight or height. My worry is about doing my job, whatever that might be.”

Woodhead has company in New England, where receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch are both 5-9.

“They’ve got big hearts, I’ll say that. What they lack for in size, they certainly make up for in competitiveness and determination and their work ethic,” Brady said. “All three of them have probably been underdogs, but they all play their best in the biggest games.”

Many of the NFL’s littlest players say they were teased or even bullied as kids about their short stature, and oftentimes they were admonished to give up football for fear they’d get crushed.

“It was always something where everybody would tell you what you can’t do because of your size. It’s always been my attitude to prove them wrong,” said Arizona Cardinals second-year pro LaRod Stephens-Howling, a 5-7 speedster from Pitt who has two kickoff returns for TDs this year.

Stephens-Howling got his start in pee wee football when he was 8 even though his mother didn’t want him to play because she was worried he would get hurt.

“Since then it’s always been the same story,” Stephens-Howling said. “It’s always been the same attitude also.”

The lightest player in the NFL is Washington Redskins kick returner Brandon Banks, an undrafted rookie from Kansas State who stands 5-7 and weighs 155 pounds.

Banks returned a punt 53 yards the first time he touched the ball in an NFL game and he has a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

No small feat for a man with such small feet.

“To be his size, you’ve got to be a hard-nosed football player, because he’s not the biggest person on the planet,” said teammate Mike Sellers, a 6-3, 272-pound fullback. “But his speed does everything for him. He’s probably the fastest person I’ve been around.

“When I first saw him, I said he looked a little fragile. But he’s hard-core. He doesn’t let that size thing affect him. You’re not going to get a clean hit on him. He’s phenomenal.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.