Duquesne's A.J. Hines basks in Jerry Rice Award as top FCS freshman
January 12, 2017 12:00 AM
Joyce Bishop Photo
Duquesne freshman running back A.J. Hines receives his award for being named freshman of the year in the Football Championship Series division from NFL great Jerry Rice.
By Brian Batko / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It would be tough for A.J. Hines to pick a favorite part of his trip to Frisco, Texas, over the weekend.
Maybe it was accepting the award for best freshman in Football Championship Subdivision. Maybe it was being presented that honor by Jerry Rice, the Hall of Famer it’s named for and one of the sport’s brightest stars of yesteryear. Or maybe it was bumping into Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys quarterback and one of the sport’s brightest stars of right now.
But it definitely wasn’t the travel.
Hines, Duquesne’s decorated first-year running back, was the recipient of the Jerry Rice Award at the STATS FCS Awards Banquet Friday night but didn’t make it back to his hometown in North Carolina until 2 a.m. Tuesday because of weather delays on the East Coast.
That was all worth it, though, for the first national freshman of the year to come from the Northeast Conference.
“It was a great experience,” Hines said by phone Tuesday, one day before he had to make his way back to Pittsburgh for the spring semester. “I’m glad I got to meet Jerry Rice himself, because he’s an inspiration to me and everybody else that was there. He gave me a lot of pointers, and he told me how he grew up, what he did and how hard he worked, so that just inspired me to work harder.”
The award named for Rice — who starred in college at FCS member Mississippi Valley State — has been handed out since 2011, when it was claimed by Towson running back Terrance West. West, an eventual third-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns, played in all 16 games this season with the Baltimore Ravens.
While West’s career has some parallels to Hines’ already, it’s Rice’s success story that has Hines bubbling with motivation.
“He told me just not to let anybody tell me that I can’t be what I want to be, and to go out and take it,” Hines said. “It shows that anybody can make it to the league and be a Hall of Famer — and a legend.”
Hines turned in a legendary freshman season for Duquesne, rushing for a freshman-record 1,291 yards on 242 carries, a 5.3 yards-per-attempt average. He also scored 13 touchdowns to help the Dukes go 8-3 and claim a share of the NEC title.
A 5-foot-11, 220-pound bumper car with quick feet, Hines has given Dukes coach Jerry Schmitt a workhorse ballcarrier.
“When you look back and you reflect, it’s amazing what he accomplished and how he was able to complement our passing game,” Schmitt said. “Then, the other part of it is he fit in so well with P.J. Fulmore, who was our returning running back. They became great friends and teammates and were a real solid one-two punch.”
The only downside to Hines’ breakout season for his coach was that Schmitt was unable to see the culmination Friday night. Schmitt was all set to join Hines in Texas for the ceremony but was sick last week with the flu and couldn’t make it.
Offensive coordinator Anthony Doria went in his place, and Schmitt’s wife and son still made the trip. They were on a tour of the Cowboys practice facility nearby, and that’s when Hines ran into Prescott. The rookie signal-caller who has taken the NFL by storm was in the process of some rest and recovery.
“We had a few words, but he was in an ice bath, so I didn’t want to take up too much of his time,” said Hines, who snapped a video for social media.
It’s not lost on Hines, who was a late addition to Duquesne’s 2016 recruiting class, that about eight months ago he didn’t even have a school to go to after his plan to attend Richmond fell through. He never thought he would be at the site of the FCS title game in early January, rubbing elbows with the very best players at his level.
But now, he’s setting his goals high for next season. He wants to win another honor named for another all-time great — the Walter Payton Award, FCS equivalent to the Heisman Trophy — and has no interest in pursuing a roster spot at a Football Bowl Subdivision school.
“I’m 100 percent committed to Duquesne,” Hines said. “This is my home.”
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