We’ve talked a little bit. Usually at high points, low points, we’ve talked. One of the greatest compliments he ever paid me was my rookie year in the last game of the season. We were playing Carolina and they were whupping us. We ran a little play-action pass, and the fullback didn’t block his guy. I saw that and kind of reacted and picked up the guy and the quarterback got the ball off. Ditka grabbed me and said, “If you keep playing football like that, you’ll play for a long time.”
Throughout your playing days, is there one coach who has influenced you the most?
I would say my coach in my first three years of college, John Mackovic, because I was 18 years old and the way that he approached football – and a lot of coaches say this – but for him, literally, football was a metaphor for life. The way he dealt with us on the field and off the field was exactly the same. He expected us to be gentlemen and within that, he gave us a lot of freedom to express ourselves openly. So I really felt that I had the support and space to grow.
When you were at Texas, did you have the nickname “The Texas Tornado”?
It wasn’t a nickname. When they came out with the Sports Illustrated article, that’s what they put on there. My only nickname was, they used to call me “Little Earl” after Earl Campbell.
Did you like that nickname?
It was a joke in the running backs room. We had a tailback named Shon Mitchell, and Shon was a comedian. He was from Austin and he was really funny. I was everyone’s favorite and would get special attention. So he used to make fun. The name was used more to make fun. I hadn’t won the Heisman Trophy just as a freshman, but everyone treated me as if I had, and he would use it as a joke. I liked that coming from him.
As a former Heisman winner, you still get to vote, right? Whom did you vote for last week?
I voted for [Stanford quarterback] Andrew Luckwith my No. 1 vote. No. 2 was [Baylor quarterback] Robert Griffin, and No. 3 was [Alabama running back] Trent Richardson.
You played outside linebacker and strong safety in high school before devoting yourself fully to running back. Is there a part of you that wishes you had stayed on defense to deliver the hits instead of absorbing them?
Well, that’s the way I try to run the ball. But even as a defensive player, I was a hitter, but I just loved the strategy of trying to figure out what the offense was trying to do. I loved the mental part of it.
What did you think of the "Run, Ricky, Run" documentary as part of ESPN's "30 For 30" series?
I was involved in it a lot. It started off as an idea that I had, and then over seven years, it progressed into the "30 For 30." But it's as accurate as you can be with the amount of footage that they had to work with and how much they had to leave on the cutting floor.
When you decide to end your playing career, would you entertain becoming a coach?
I don't think so. I love football, but I really don't believe that I would make the decision to be around this kind of intensity for the rest of my life. I've learned a lot, and I've done a lot, and it's been a great experience, but I don't think I was born to be a football player or a football coach. Obviously, it's been a big chunk of my life, but I think there are other things that I would be better served to pursue.
With that in mind, what are you considering?
I might end up in 15 years coming back to coach, but I'd like to go back to school. I enjoy learning. I want to go to medical school and eventually practice psychiatry.
There's different parts in the field and I think I want to be an analyst. My hero is Carl Jung just because he was able to look at human psyche scientifically using his own mind as an experiment. He was able to help a lot of people dramatically, starting from the inside. Being an introverted person, I spend a lot of time with my own thoughts. So I think I've learned a lot these past couple years, and I think I'd be able to help. And I would enjoy it.
Do you think patients would be more open to confiding in you based on who you are?
I think football players would. But I’d like to think that a lot of people would. I’ve just done so many different things that I think I can relate to so many different people.