Riding the Crest
- athlete profile first published in Player Magazine (1200 words)
The phone rings a couple of times before a distant voice responds on the other end. The voice sounds businesslike but relaxed. In the background there is a dull roar that can only emanate from a household occupied by five university students. The voice apologizes, disappears, and then reappears in a more secluded spot.
Life is like that for Rueben Mayes these days. A merry-go-round. The studious 3rd year on the phone is a walking/running legend on the campus of Washington State University. Not that we would know it on the phone, but Mayes regularly lifts thousands of football fans out of their seats with a shift of the hips. Ninety yards later another chapter is written about this Canadian phenomenon.
Rueben Mayes is dedicated toward whatever task he sets out to accomplish, even though it doesn’t leave much time to goof around with his buddies.
“During football season you have very little time, especially if you want to excel in both school and football. You have to keep your time down to studying and playing. In the off-season you have more spare time.”
Maybe not for long.
The six foot, 208 pound running back has been the main cog in a powerful Washington State offense this season. Through ten games he has glided through opposition defenses to the tune of 1472 yards rushing. His 151 yards per game average is second in the nation. The last four games he has scored nine touchdowns, five alone against Stanford. On Saturday, October 27, Rueben Mayes stunned the American sports world when he took 39 handoffs and slashed his way to 357 yards against Oregon, a US Collegiate record. No small feat since the week before Oregon‘s defense limited the number one ranked Nebraska to 106 yards in total. Sports Illustrated named him Player of the week. It appears Rueben Mayes is for real.
What both Canada and the US are swimming in right now is a fascination for this star from “North Battleford, Saskatchewan”. The attention has been steady, but like any strong willed athlete Rueben has not let it get to him.
“After that game my (North Battleford) coach, Don Hodgins called and my mom and dad and I had some interviews with the radio stations in Regina. I also talked to the newspapers in Battleford and Saskatoon. People always ask the same questions. It was pretty hectic having four or five interviews per day, but now it’s not so bad. I had 140 yards the following week and after running for 357, 140 doesn’t seem like very much. The hype was getting kind of monotonous after a while.”
Despite the success, Mayes lives out his school year like most students. The transition from North Battleford to Pullman, Washington has been, surprisingly, not that difficult.
“Pullman’s a small town, like North Battleford and is in a grain area so, y’know, there’s not much difference for me. There’s a little greenery around but other than that it’s a lot like Saskatchewan. I lived in a dorm the first two years and then I moved to a house.”
At 21, Rueben is the oldest of seven children, born and raised in North Battleford. Early in his athletic career, track and field was his first love. His last year in track he was the Canadian Junior indoor sprint champion. His final year at North Battleford Composite he won both the provincial 100 and 200 meter sprint titles. His high school football team pounded Regina Central 46-10 in the Provincial final with Rueben gathering 285 yards along the way. This alone got a few football people excited and the Rueben Mayes sweepstakes began.
Mayes decision to head south
was met with disappointment from Saskatchewan football circles, but
“It was through the Edmonton Eskimos and they sent some films to WSU. They watched the films, saw what they liked and I then went down on a recruiting trip. I liked it because it was a PAC 10 school and it had pretty good academic standing in business. I brought back a letter of intent, signed it and sent it back down. That was it!”
Washington State is a school of 17,000 students that is famous for two names in particular, alumni George Reed and Hugh Campbell, both Saskatchewan Roughrider greats. Playing in the US in front of crowds of 100,000 and a national TV audience was something foreign compared to the crowds back home.
“Once I got here, it was dramatic in a way because there was much more discipline. It was a lot more rigorous than high school with two a day practices for two weeks. It’s total football…meetings and training. It’s getting your body used to bouncing around and learning plays. It’s very tiring and hard mentally. The purpose is to get you ready to play football so they break you down mentally so they can coach you better. We’ve been on a rigid lifting program too. We have pre-conditioning for three weeks, then we have three weeks of spring ball that’s pretty intense. A lot of hitting is involved and it goes five days a week. After that you’re burned out until next fall.”
To be sure, Mayes has come a long way since those first few practices with the North Battleford Legion Track Club. In three short years at Washington State, he has firmly entrenched himself as a bona fide candidate for the Heisman Trophy as US College’s outstanding player.
Let’s take stock here. Mayes has gotten himself some well earned international attention. He’s participating in a sport that North Americans drool over and if he continues at his current pace he may find himself picked in the first or second round of the NFL draft. This alone could mean a very sweet signing bonus, higher than a whole season of CFL salary. “Ruby Shoes” has got options.
For now, Rueben Mayes’ prime concern is leading his Cougars into battle against number one ranked Washington, their cross state rivals, in a season ending nationally televised game.
“They’re scared. They’re our arch rivals and we play them our last game here in Pullman. In my freshman year they were number one and we beat them. With our offense playing the way it is now, a lot of Bowls look for that kind of stuff. It makes the game exciting and people like to watch it.”
Rueben Mayes is riding the crest now and it’s through a lot of hard work and dedication that he’s in this enviable spot. This Christmas holiday, expect a major homecoming for the local hero. Friends and family will gather and at least for a short time things will be like they always used to be. There are big things brewing on the horizon, though and everybody can sense that they will be sharing in something special.
As Rueben hangs up the phone I think that I should record this as accurately as possible. It might look good in the history books some day.
team lost to Washington but Rueben continued with his success being selected
the following year by the New Orleans Saints in the second round of the
NFL draft. His NFL career lasted five years and he gained over 1000 yards
rushing on two occasions.
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