Being the only 1,000-yard rusher in a season as well as the leading rusher in the 84-year history of his school would cause many a collegiate football player to stick out his chest. But to senior fullback James Breakfield of Howard, these two accomplishments have been secondary.
"I want to win a championship. I have never won anything in football," said the 5-foot-11 1/2, 210-pound Breakfield. "I would much rather gain 500 yards and win the MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) title than gain 1,000 and lose. Losing is something I have never gotten used to."
Breakfield, the workhorse of the Howard offense, totaled 1,436 yards on 218 carries for a healthy 6.5 average coming into this season. He gained only eight yards his sophomore season while sidelined most of that year with a neck injury.
"It wasn't a good feeling, that's for sure. That inactivity and the watching; wanting to be out there was almost too much to take," said Breakfield, shaking his head. "But it was something I had to accept. Now that I look back on it, I don't regret the coach's decision for keeping me out now."
Coach Doug Porter, who brought Breakfield from Louisiana with him four years ago, said the powerful back's injury was "serious enough for him to sit out a year.
"It was hard for him to understand why he wasn't playing," said Porter. "He wasn't feeling any pain a few weeks after the injury. But the threat of permanent injury was there. He had a full year to get strong both physically and mentally and that's why he had the good year last season."
After Breakfield got over the initial fear of "getting hit the first time and not getting hurt again," he proceeded to gain 1,017 yards rushing and another 80 yards on seven pass receptions. His 71-yard performance against Morgan State in the '76 season finale made Breakfield the first Howard runner to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark.
Breakfield and his teammates were set to converge on the '77 football scene eager to erase the memories of a disappointing 5-5-1 performance a year ago. But sometimes overenthusiasm can be a problem.
The Bison ran into a talented Florida ASM team in their opener Saturday and were defeated, 28-6.
"I still think we're headed in the right direction (MEAC title)," said Breakfield, who carried the ball only 10 times for 38 yards. "We got the potential to play with anyone on our schedule. We didn't show it Saturday. We just need to work a little harder. I know I wasn't satified with my performance."
Porter wasn't either. That's one reason the soft-spoken coach is spending a few extra minutes on timing and execution for Saturday's home game aganist Maryland-Eastern Shore.
"Our offense is designed for our fullback to carry the ball 20-25 times. But James had been hampered by a slight injury and I spelled him a lot," said Porter, in defense of Breakfield's lack of playing time. "It's something he can play on (foot) but anytime I can rest him, I will. He will be as effective as he was last year as soon as he's 100 per cent."
If Howard is to challenge for the MEAC crown, it will need a healthy Breakfield. And after watching his teammates play without him for a full season, the muscular, serious-minded Breakfield isn't about to succumb to an injury he calls "something I don't think about."
"I may have missed a few holes Saturday but then FAMU had a good defense too," said Breakfield. "I love to run the football and I like to carry it at least 20 times a game. If I do, I know I can get the yards between the tackles and outside too, if necessary.
"But I'm going to go along with any decision the coaches make. I have always believed in my coaches and I don't plan to stop now. My main objective is to help the team win. If I gain 2,000 yards - that would be nice, wouldn't it - great, I just want to go as far as my ability carries me."
Thus far, Breakfield's heart, leadership qualities and his penchant for running over people have carried him a long way.