JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Fred Taylor was a prized high school recruit trying to decide between Florida and Florida State in November 1993.
He was sitting on metal bleachers in the south end zone at Florida Field, watching the Gators and Seminoles play their annual rivalry game. He had already verbally committed to FSU coach Bobby Bowden.
Then one play changed his mind.
Charlie Ward scrambled left on third down and floated a perfect pass to freshman Warrick Dunn near the sideline. Dunn outran five defenders en route to a 79-yard touchdown reception that essentially ended any chance the Gators had of upsetting eventual national champion Florida State.
Had it not been for that score, Taylor and Dunn probably would have been college teammates.
"I had a change of heart after watching him play," Taylor said. "I'll never forget it."
Rather than compete with Dunn for carries in Tallahassee, Taylor decided to play about 130 miles southeast in Gainesville. Their careers, though, never strayed too far apart.
Dunn became Florida State's all-time leading rusher, was drafted 12th overall by Tampa Bay in 1997 and has amassed 9,516 yards rushing since. Taylor was one of the best to play for the Gators, was picked ninth by Jacksonville in 1998 and has 9,529 yards on the ground.
Today, they will be on opposite sidelines for the first time since 1998, when the Jaguars (0-1) play host to the Atlanta Falcons (0-1), both teams looking for wins after disappointing season openers.
Atlanta's Joey Harrington was sacked six times and threw two interceptions in a 24-3 loss at Minnesota.
Both teams also expect more from their running games, and it starts with Taylor and Dunn.
They rank second and third, respectively, among active NFL backs in rushing yards. Trailing only Arizona's Edgerrin James, both have their sights set on becoming the 21st player to eclipse the 10,000-yard milestone.
"Hopefully both of us get there," Taylor said. "That's all that matters."
Dunn ran 22 times for 55 yards in the opener. Trying to prove he's healthy following off-season back surgery, he averaged a paltry 2.5 yards a carry. Jerious Norwood came off the bench and carried five times for 33 yards. The Falcons don't anticipate a change.
"Warrick has a gear that I think people just don't expect," Harrington said. "He is obviously a little guy in stature, but he has tremendous vision, incredibly fast and just runs unbelievably hard. You put those three things together - talent, vision and drive - and you are going to get a running back that will stay in the league for a while."
NFL RUSHING LEADERS
|1 Emmitt Smith||18,355|
|2 Walter Payton||16,726|
|3 Barry Sanders||15,269|
|4 Curtis Martin||14,101|
|5 Jerome Bettis||13,653|
|6 Eric Dickerson||13,259|
|7 Tony Dorsett||12,739|
|8 Jim Brown||12,312|
|9 Marshall Faulk||12,279|
|10 Marcus Allen||12,243|
|11 Franco Harris||12,120|
|12 Thurman Thomas||12,074|
|13 John Riggins||11,352|
|14 Corey Dillon||11,238|
|15 O.J. Simpson||11,236|
|16 Ricky Watters||10,643|
|17 Tiki Barber||10,449|
|18 Eddie George||10,441|
|19 Edgerrin James||10,477*|
|20 Ottis Anderson||10,273|
|21 Fred Taylor||9,529*|
|22 Warrick Dunn||9,516*|