Mavs' hard-charging back wants special final season

David Tann rushed for 1,061 yards and 20 touchdowns last season for Colorado Mesa.

CMU running back David Tann cut 11 inches off his hair last spring and donated it in memory of a cousin who died three years ago of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. His hair not brushes his shoulder pads, because he hopes to donate again before he starts interviewing for jobs after his final semester of school.

David Tann played the 2016 football season as if it was his last chance.

Then, he got a second chance.

“Another year to play football? You can’t say no to that,” Tann said with a grin the week before camp began. “To get on the field one more time with the guys I’ve been fighting with; they’ve been like my brothers since moving out here.”

Tann scored 25 touchdowns, 20 rushing, including a record-setting seven TDs (six rushing, one receiving) in a 63-42 victory over Adams State, and led Colorado Mesa to the RMAC championship and into the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The 5-foot-10, 215-pound defensive back-turned-running back was nearly impossible to keep off the field, amassing 191 carries despite playing the final couple of games with an ankle injury. That ankle finally forced him to the sideline when it was twisted on a tackle during the playoff game against Texas A&M Commerce. He carried the ball 14 times for 47 yards in the 34-23 loss.

“I have some unfinished business I want to handle, too,” Tann said.

Toward the end of last season, word came that Tann, who was a preferred walk-on at the University of Iowa in 2012 and 2013, had one semester of eligibility remaining.

Recruited as a safety, he redshirted at Iowa in 2012, and saw no game action in 2013. He decided to transfer to a smaller school, where he had a better chance to play, even though the Hawkeyes were his dream team growing up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Enter Colorado Mesa, which brought him in as a defensive back.

He played in all 11 games in 2014, with 36 tackles, and scored his first college touchdown against Western State when he recovered a fumble in the end zone.

The next fall, the Mavericks were lacking depth at running back, so CMU coach Russ Martin told the defensive staff he was taking Tann for the offense. They were a little surprised, but Martin had done his homework: Tann was a two-way player in high school, playing fullback (680 yards and 8 TDs as a senior, with three receiving touchdowns) and safety. He was an all-state defensive back, and Martin liked his toughness.

It was a successful transition. Playing behind DJ Hubbard and Jonathon Beverly, he rushed for 374 yards on 62 carries and scored five touchdowns, proving to be a valuable short-yardage guy and blocker. Tann provided a glimpse of what was to come with two 100-yard games and broke off a 47-yard touchdown run in the season finale against Western State.

As Tann’s role changed, so did his appearance. He’s put on 15 pounds of muscle since arriving at CMU, and he grew out his once short-cropped hair. Both changes were for good reasons. He needed to get bigger to withstand the pounding no matter if he was playing defense or offense.

The hair, which went from clean-cut to shaggy to full-blown flowing mane, wasn’t merely following a trend.

“It was inspired by my cousin (Alli Huss), who passed away at 18 from Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” said Tann, who writes “Alli” on the tape on his left wrist on game days. “That summer I came out here, I said I’m not going to cut my hair, I’m going to grow it out for her.”

Last spring, Tann’s hair was long enough to donate to Pantene Beautiful Lengths. Nearly one foot of his blond locks — 11 inches — were cut, but he hasn’t gone back to his old look. His hair brushes his shoulder pads, because he hopes to donate again before he starts going on job interviews.

“I’ve still got a little bit of lettuce left, so I might try to donate it one more time,” Tann said, running his hand through his hair. “We’ll see when the real world comes around.”

At times, Tann tied his hair back, but on game days, it flows free. NCAA rules, like the NFL, allow players to be tackled by their hair, and Tann said although he was never brought down by his mane, he did get slowed down once.

“A (New Mexico) Highlands guy took a terrible angle on me and I probably would have been gone,” Tann said. “He grabbed my hair. He wasn’t going to make the tackle, but he grabbed my hair and pulled my head back just enough to slow me down and tripped me up. It’ll be good to have it a little shorter; they won’t be able to hang on so much.”

He laughs at the notion that by cutting his hair, he’s more aerodynamic, but one thing he does know — this CMU offense can be dynamic.

“You saw us last year; we’re explosive,” he said. “You get that line going ... we’ve got some guys who were injured last year coming back, we’ve got a couple of new guys coming in. We go as they go; it all starts up front.

“Eystin (Salum, the Mavs’ QB) is very talented. He’s explosive in the running game, the passing game, which is only going to open it up and make it easier for me at the end of the day. We’ve got a good group of receivers coming back and good ones coming in, which I’m very excited about. The more we open it up and pass the ball, the more the run game’s going to open up.”

Tann had to dis-enroll at CMU in the spring semester and save his final semester for this fall. By sitting out of spring drills, it allowed his bum ankle to completely heal, and he gained a new appreciation for the game.

“It was nice to be able to get off (the ankle), relax, heal up and see the game from a different point of view,” Tann said. “Not in it, but watching it and notice things, the little things, that kind of bothered me.

“I kind of took a step back and said, ‘Do I do that when I’m at practice? Do I do that when I approach the game every day?’

“I think that really helped me grow and be a leader, to keep people accountable and see it from a coaching standpoint; don’t just go through the motions. Don’t do just what you want to do, do what you’re supposed to do, do it fast and do it well.”


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