Hebron makes big-time debut Former Gibbons star leads Eagles, 23-17

September 06, 1993|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA -- Vaughn Hebron buried the memory of draft day 1993 yesterday, proving once again that scouting is a flawed science at best.

Passed over last April by all 28 NFL teams because he was regarded as too small or too injury-prone, Hebron proved he was neither in his debut for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Proof came in the fourth quarter of Philadelphia's 23-17 victory over the Phoenix Cardinals. That's when the 5-foot-8 Hebron took over in the Eagles' backfield, when 59,831 Veterans Stadium patrons knew they had a new folk hero at running back.

There was an electric 33-yard jaunt around Phoenix's left side that had defenders grasping at air. And there was a gritty 5-yard touchdown run up the middle that showed he could run inside, too.

Hebron, a native of Catonsville and a product of Cardinal Gibbons High, supplied the inspiration in an 80-yard scoring drive the Eagles needed to hold off the Cardinals.

He rushed for a game-high 66 yards -- 14 more than Herschel Walker and Heath Sherman had combined. Even a late fumble that resulted in a Phoenix touchdown didn't diminish what Hebron meant to the Eagles' offense on Week 1.

Football players come in all shapes and sizes," guard Brian Baldinger said, just a few lockers away from Hebron. "He has good instincts, and knows how to cut. He told the offensive line, 'You don't have to knock 'em down -- just give me a crack.' He's just been explosive since the first time he carried the rock in this league."

Hebron arrived in the league this summer as a free-agent rookie from Virginia Tech that no one else wanted. Only Philadelphia offered him a contract after he went undrafted. And Joe Woolley, director of player personnel, wasn't too sure what the Eagles were getting.

"What I saw [at Tech] was a little guy who could run a little," Woolley said. "I didn't see the quickness, the acceleration that he's shown here. He's run better here by far than he did in college.

"There's a little more determination. And he's been hungry here."

Hebron had missed four games with an ankle injury as a senior, yet still led the team with 579 yards. He gained more than 3,000 yards in his college career.

"Injuries held me back a lot," he said. "But I'm doing the same things here I did at Tech. Block when I'm asked, catch the ball, run it. I guess a lot of scouts think that [he didn't show much at Tech]."

The disappointment of draft day turned out to be Hebron's greatest motivation.

"Once I wasn't drafted, I wanted to prove I wasgood enough to make the pros, or prove there was a mistake by the scouts. If it went the other way, at least it was out of my system. But it happened this way, and I'll take it.

"Free agency is a hard road to take. If I was a betting man, I wouldn't bet on me. All I asked for was an opportunity."

When he got the opportunity in preseason, he averaged seven yards a carry. On cut-down day last Monday, the Eagles released former Alabama star Siran Stacey, their 1992 second-round pick, in favor of Hebron.

Hebron celebrated by going out after practice and buying a new Pathfinder. He also started signing autographs, a practice he eschewed during camp because no one recognized his name. Now, it seems, everybody knows him.

"Down at Tech, the same thing happened," he said when asked about being accepted by Philadelphia's rabid fans. "I guess it's because of my size, and the fact I show spirit. Philadelphia's got very knowledgeable fans."

Hebron played mostly on special teams and only sparingly in the backfield in the first half yesterday. His first run, a 6-yard gain, was wiped out by an illegal procedure penalty by Mark Bavaro.

But when the Eagles' offense bogged down in the second half, Eagles coach Rich Kotite flanked Walker out and gave Hebron the ball. Kotite was quickly rewarded.

"He played well," the coach said. "He got the ball stripped from him, and it was unfortunate that happened. But he certainly gave us a lift."

Hebron gave Phoenix a gift with four minutes left. Stacked up on a 4-yard loss, he had the ball stripped by the Cardinals' Lorenzo Lynch, who went 55 yards for a touchdown to pull the Cardinals within six.

"I was trying to stay in bounds," Hebron said. "I will learn from it, but I'm not going to focus on it."

The Eagles were willing to overlook the gaffe.

Said guard Mike Schad: "He's like a test plane. We haven't seen him move as fast as he can. I'm looking forward to seeing him push the throttle forward all the way."

In the end zone after his first NFL touchdown, Hebron, 22, gave the ball to an official.

"I didn't know what to do," he said. "So I gave the ref the ball. As I understand it, the ball costs money."

Several veterans quickly retrieved the ball for Hebron's keepsake.

"The kid knows we appreciate what he's done," Baldinger said. "We don't take it for granted. He's hungry. He's got some fire in his bones about the game. It's good to see."

NFL WEEK 1

Detroit 30 ... ... ... ... ... ... Atlanta 13

Cleveland 27 .. .. ... ... ... ... Cincinnati 14

Denver 26 .. .. .. ... ... ... ... N.Y. Jets 20

Kansas City 27 ... ... ... ... ... Tampa Bay 3

Green Bay 36 .. .. ... ... ... ... L.A. Rams 6

Miami 24 .. ... .. ... ... ... ... Indianapolis 20

Buffalo 38 ... ... ... ... ... ... New England 14

Philadelphia 23 .. ... ... ... ... Phoenix 17

San Fran. 24 .. .. ... ... ... ... Pittsburgh 13

L.A. Raiders 24 .. ... ... ... ... Minnesota 7

N.Y. Giants 26 ... ... ... ... ... Chicago 20

San Diego 18 .. .. ... ... ... ... Seattle 12

New Orleans 33 ... ... ... ... ... Houston 21

Coverage: 10-12C

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