Throughout the past several decades, there has always been a good racial mix at just about every position in the NFL. There are just a couple that come to mind in regards to a sole race, though. There is only one current African-American kicker or punter (Marquette King of the Raiders), and there are no white cornerbacks in the NFL. The other one that stands out is running back, which has been predominantly African-American for many, many years.
Once in awhile, there is a white running back that comes along, though the amount of success hasn’t been high in years. There are currently three notable white running backs these days with Zach Zenner (Lions), Danny Woodhead (Ravens) and Christian McCaffrey (Panthers). So when the occasional one comes around, there always seems to be an unusual amount of media attention.
For those that got said attention by joining the league, whatever happened once their playing careers came to an end? We’ll look back at some of the rare white running backs (and even a couple of fullbacks that toted the ball frequently to see what they’re up to these days. Surprisingly, there are very few coaches or broadcasters compared to many other positions.
15 15. Toby Gerhart
There were a lot of people that were upset over the fact that Stanford running back Toby Gerhart didn’t win the Heisman Trophy in 2009 against Mark Ingram. He would still be a fairly high draft pick, however, getting taken 51st overall in 2010 by the Vikings. Gerhart played four seasons with Minnesota, unable to crack into the starting lineup thanks to Adrian Peterson.
Gerhart picked up 1,305 rushing yards in Minnesota, and then spent his final two seasons with Jacksonville in 2014 and 2015 where he picked up 370 yards. After being released in 2016, the 30 year old is still a free agent that has had a couple of workouts, but hasn’t signed anywhere. He’s hoping to break back into the NFL, and has continued to train while not announcing any retirement.
14 14. Craig James
One of the players that attended SMU during their heyday (that involved a lot of illegal activity), Craig James was the perfect compliment to Eric Dickerson. In 1983, James went pro, and landed with the Washington Federals of the USFL. James would come over to the NFL the next year, joining the Patriots for five seasons that included one Pro Bowl, 2,469 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
James retired after the 1988 season, and immediately went into broadcasting. Eventually, James worked his way up the ladder as an analyst with ESPN and ABC. James left broadcasting to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012, but didn’t win the vote. He went back to football with Fox Sports, but was let go almost immediately. Now, James is working for the Family Research Council.
13 13. Jacob Hester
Jacob Hester proved to be very versatile while at LSU, playing both halfback and fullback, helping his team with the BCS title in 2008. Hester was drafted in the third round later that year by the Chargers, where he was going to be used in many different roles. Hester would collect just 627 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns in San Diego, however. In 2012, Hester played his final NFL season with Denver, collecting 88 yards and three touchdowns.
Hester now works for Cox Sports Television (not a typo) as an analyst for LSU football. He also runs a camp that has been going on for a decade, teaching youngsters what it takes to make it in college football. Though his NFL career didn’t pan out, Hester is still regarded more highly in Baton Rouge than you might think.
12 12. Brian Leonard
The year before Jacob Hester was taken in the third round, we saw a white running back get taken in the second round. This time, it was Rutgers product Brian Leonard, who was selected by the St. Louis Rams. Leonard was eventually supposed to get a big workload, but it never came to fruition. In just two seasons with the Rams, Leonard rushed for 310 yards.
Leonard would land in Cincinnati, Tampa Bay and New Orleans before finishing his career in 2014, ending with 1,836 scrimmage yards and one touchdown. Like Hester, Leonard also runs his own football camp, with Leonard’s being in Potsdam, New York. He also lives in Morristown, New Jersey with his wife and son, and is looking into a career in real estate.
11 11. Daryl Johnston
Affectionately known as “Moose” by his fans, Daryl Johnston was a second round pick from Syracuse in 1989 by the Dallas Cowboys. While he was a fullback, Johnston did receive his fair share of chances with the ball. Johnson spent his entire career with the Cowboys, helping the team win three Super Bowls while finishing with nearly 3,000 scrimmage yards and 32 touchdowns.
After retiring following the 1999 season, Johnston started to train for a broadcasting career. Johnson officially joined Fox as an NFL analyst and has worked his way up the ladder with the company. His pairing with Dick Stockton was, at one point, the number two team behind Troy Aikman and Joe Buck. Though they have been moved down a slot, the pair is still together covering Sunday afternoons.
10 10. Tom Matte
Despite playing at quarterback for the most part at Ohio State, Tom Matte was brought into the NFL with the seventh overall pick in 1961 to rush the ball. Matte joined the Baltimore Colts that year, spending his entire 12 season career with the team and made two Pro Bowls. Matte would gather 1,200 yards on the ground with another 2,869 through the air, finishing with 57 touchdowns.
Matte retired in 1973 and worked for CBS for a short time, but would eventually join the Baltimore Ravens broadcast team when the franchise moved from Cleveland. Matte now runs sort of a booster club chapter for the Ravens that donates to local charities. Matte also works with the NFL to raise money for retired players that didn’t get the large contracts or endorsement deals that those do now.
9 9. John Cappelletti
Shortly after winning the 1973 Heisman Trophy with Penn State, John Cappelletti became the 11th overall by in 1974 by the Los Angeles Rams. Cappelletti spent five seasons in Los Angeles before finishing with four years in San Diego as a Charger. Cappelletti retired following the 1983 season with a total of 4,184 scrimmage yards and 28 touchdowns.
Cappelletti decided to stay in California following his retirement, collecting classic cars and enjoying the quiet life. He’ll return to Penn State once in awhile for charity golf tournaments, but has lowered his playing time on the links after playing for so long. Cappelletti said that he is still buying, restoring and selling classic cars, which have included a 1969 Z28 Camaro, which was among his favorites.
8 8. Rocky Bleier
After playing with Notre Dame in the 1960s, Bleier was a late round draft pick by Pittsburgh in 1968. Following his rookie season, Bleier was drafted into the Vietnam War and was injured, causing him to miss the 1969 season. Despite the battle wounds, Bleier came back to Pittsburgh and spent 10 more seasons with the team. All in all, Bleier would finish with 3,865 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
Bleier retired after the 1980 season, and wrote a book that was turned into a television movie. Since then, he has been writing books on the topic of personal finance and has a radio show devoted to said topic. Bleier also recently started up a one-man show discussing his fascinating life that includes football, war and finances.
7 7. Ed Podolak
After a standout career at Iowa, Ed Podolak was the 48th overall pick by the Chiefs following the AFL-NFL merger in 1969. Podolak would spend nine seasons in the league, all with Kansas City. The team would win the AFL title in his first year and Super Bowl IV. During his time with the Chiefs, Podolak finished with more than 6,900 scrimmage yards and 40 touchdowns before retiring after the 1977 season.
Podolak immediately went into broadcasting following his retirement, working with the NFL on NBC. After a few years, Podolak headed back to Iowa as an analyst for his alma mater. Now 69 years old, Podolak is enjoying his retirement and owns property in Costa Rica. According to Podolak, he heads there as much as he can while listening to music from his pal, Jimmy Buffett.
6 6. Merril Hoge
Merril Hoge was never really supposed to succeed in the NFL after being a 10th round pick from Idaho State in 1987. Hoge, however, defied the odds starting in his second season when he rushed for 705 yards and three touchdowns. Hoge’s best year came in 1990 with 772 yards and seven touchdowns, and another 342 yards receiving. In seven years with the Steelers and one with the Bears, Hoge finished with 5,272 scrimmage yards and 34 touchdowns.
Hoge didn’t have to wait long after retiring in 1994 to find another job, as he landed with ESPN as an analyst. For many years, Hoge remained with the station giving his takes and gameplay breakdowns. Now, Hoge is a free agent in the broadcasting world as he was let go in 2017 by ESPN when the network had a slew of lay-offs.
5 5. Tom Rathman
One of those fullbacks that would end up getting his fair share of touches, Tom Rathman was a third round pick by the 49ers out of Nebraska in 1986. At 6’1 and 230, the 49ers tried him out at halfback in his first season where he collected 259 scrimmage yards and one touchdowns. Overall, Rathman would spend eight seasons in San Francisco and one with the Raiders, finishing at 4,704 yards and 34 touchdowns. Along the way, Rathman won two Super Bowls.
Unlike many of the others on our list, Rathman went into professional coaching after starting in high school. Rathman joined the 49ers staff in 1997 as the running backs coach, and then took the same position with the Lions in 2003. After three seasons as the Raiders running backs coach, he went back to San Francisco in 2009. Now, Rathman is looking for a job as Kyle Shanahan decided not to retain him on the 49ers staff, but will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame.
4 4. Larry Csonka
The eighth overall pick out of Syracuse by the Miami Dolphins, Larry Csonka was a bruiser that was instrumental in the team finishing an undefeated season in 1972. Csonka also played with the Giants for three seasons, but is fondly remembered as a Dolphin. His Hall of Fame career saw Csonka rush for 8,081 yards and 64 touchdowns, being named to five Pro Bowl teams.
Csonka would find himself in the media after retiring in 1980, working as an analyst with NBC and even “American Gladiators.” Csonka then had a growing love for the state of Alaska, and decided to produce a show called “North to Alaska” and “Csonka Outdoors.” Both shows have since come to an end, so the 70 year old is now enjoying his retirement in the four years since “North to Alaska” ended.
3 3. Mike Alstott
Though he was one of those players that was technically a fullback, Mike Alstott received an abnormal amount of carries at the position, especially considering the era he played. Alstott was the 35th overall pick out of Purdue in 1996, and spent his entire 11 season career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In that time, Alstott was a six-time Pro Bowl player with 5,088 career rushing yards and 58 touchdowns.
Alstott had planned to play in 2007, but decided to call it a career because of a neck injury. Alstott decided to go into coaching, though not at a professional level. Instead, Alstott is coaching football with Northside Christian in Florida. He didn’t want to do it at first, but has said that he’s having more fun than he thought he would.
2 2. John Riggins
In the Super Bowl era of the NFL (and possibly overall), many consider John Riggins to be the best white running back of all-time. The former Kansas Jayhawk spent his first five seasons in the league with the Jets, rushing for 3,880 yards and 25 touchdowns. It wasn’t until he joined the Redskins in 1976 that he became a breakout star, rushing behind the infamous “Hogs” offensive line.
Riggins finished with 11,352 yards and 104 touchdowns in his Hall of Fame career, getting the induction in 1992. Riggins went into acting for a little bit, even appearing in soap opera “Guiding Light”. Riggins would also become an analyst, though he spent much of his free time outdoors. Now 67 years old, Riggins is enjoying his macho life and is working with ESPN Radio in Washington, D.C. to cover the Redskins once again.
1 1. Peyton Hillis
In the mid 2000s, Arkansas had a huge 1-2-3 punch with Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis. Though he was used mostly at fullback in college, Hillis became a halfback after being drafted in the seventh round by Denver in 2008. Hillis would collect just 397 rushing yards in his first two seasons, but exploded onto the scene in 2010 with Cleveland when he rushed for 1,177 yards.
Hillis never lived up to the 2010 season, but was still voted to be on the cover of Madden 12. Hillis stuck around the league in a reduced role, but left after the 2014 season with the Giants when he rushed for just 115 yards. Football became unimportant to Hillis, who now spends his time with his wife and daughter. He volunteers as a high school coach in Arkansas, but for the most part is happy to be away from the NFL.
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