Born: March 14, 1978
Town: Berlin Township, New Jersey
Ronald Dayne Jr. was born March 14, 1978 in Berlin Township. Ron’s parents—Ron Sr. and Brenda—fought often. Ron Sr. had a violent personality and Brenda struggled with drugs. They divorced and Ron went with his sister Onya to live with their uncle, Rob Reid, a minister, in Woodbury.
From an early age, Ron had great foot speed and enormous upper body strength. Although he stopped growing at 5' 10" Ron continued to add body mass without losing his speed. At Overbrook High School, Ron’s unusual physique made him a star on the track and field team. As a junior in 1995 and again as a senior in 1996, he won state titles in shot put and discus. Ron won meet after meet—including the Penn Relays—and was considered for the 1996 Olympic squad.
On the football team, coach Harvey Miller used Ron as a human wrecking ball. He played fullback and tailback for the Rams at 250-plus pounds and was unstoppable. Ron gained 1,566 yards and scored 27 touchdowns as a junior and followed that up with 1,785 yards and 24 TDs as a senior. Ron averaged over 10 yards per carry during his high-school career.
Most ratings services had Ron ranked as the #1 fullback prospect in the country. Some schools thought he might be too big to be an effective Division I runner, but Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez believed he could be a great tailback. Ron liked this idea. He knew a little about the school from other Overbrook players who had played for the Badgers—Keith Jackson, Michael London and Lee DeRamus. He accepted Wisconsin’s scholarship offer and made the starting lineup as a freshman in the fifth game of the 1996 season.
Initially, Alvarez used Ron at the end of games. He didn’t realize the weapon he had at his disposal. Once Ron became the Badgers’ featured back, he went on a record-shattering rampage. He finished the regular season with 1,863 yards to break Herschel Walker’s freshman record, and set an NCAA record for yards in consecutive games with 628—289 against Illinois and 339 against Hawaii. Ron actually sat out the fourth quarter of the Hawaii game!
Ron followed up this performance with a great sophomore year. He ran for 1,457 yards in 1997 despite missing two games and most of a third to injuries. In 1998, Ron gained 1,525 yards and was named MVP of the Rose Bowl when he ran for 246 yards and four TDs in a 38–31 win over UCLA. Ron kept on rolling as a senior, rushing for 2,034 yards and 20 touchdowns. He was an easy pick for the Heisman Trophy, and earned his second Rose Bowl MVP in January when he topped 200 yards in a victory over Stanford. Ron brought his 2-year-old daughter, Jada, to the Heisman ceremony in New York.
Ron finished his college career with 7,125 yards on 1,220 carries. He scored 71 touchdowns, all on the ground. Ron also caught 31 passes for the badgers. Ron graduated with the NCAA’s all-time career rushing record, and the Big Ten’s first three-time rushing champ. The most amazing stat was that more than half of Ron’s yards came after he was hit by a tackler.
Ron returned to New Jersey when he was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft. He played fullback alongside Tiki Barber his rookie year, forming the team’s Thunder and Lightning backfield. Ron led the club with 228 carries and gained 770 yards, with Barber getting 1,006. Ron’s best game came in a 19–14 win over Dallas, when he ran for 108 yards and a touchdown. The Giants went 12–4 and won the NFC East. They scored victories over the Eagles and Vikings in the playoffs to win the conference championship, but fell to the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Ron played three more seasons for the Giants, but saw his playing time diminish each year. The team was unhappy with his inability to control his weight. Even after dropping 40 pounds in 2004, he could not crack the starting lineup, and he was allowed to walk after the season. Ron signed with the Broncos in 2005 and had a big game against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. That was not enough to keep him in Denver—the Broncos cut him the following summer. Ron caught on with the Houston Texans and played his final two NFL seasons with the young club. In his final pro campaign, he ran for 773 yards and 6 touchdowns to help the Texans achieve their first .500 season at 8–8.
Ron could not find a job in the NFL after the 2007 season. He retired and returned to his adopted home of Waunakee, Wisconsin. His uniform number was retired by the Badgers in 2010 and he was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 2011.