Richard Haley has rushed for 2,603 yards in two years for the Golden Eagles.

It is always a dream of many young men to lace up their cleats and run out onto the field in the National Football League but very few players get the chance to do so. It will be a long road but what once seemed like a lofty goal for University of Minnesota, Crookston running back Richard Haley, who has long played the game he loved in pursuit of his ultimate ambition, has quickly become a possibility as the 6-foot, 205 pound relentless runner has made a name for himself at the small Northwest Minnesota school rushing for 2,603 yards in two years for the Golden Eagles.

“I have a few NFL teams that are showing interest in me,” Haley said. “The Jacksonville Jaguars came a few weeks ago. The Dallas Cowboys called a few weeks ago and the Minnesota Vikings have called and asked for film on me. The next couple of months I am going to be trying to train for the Pro Day that I’m going to have down in Minneapolis. From there it is in God’s hands.”

The possibility has become a little bit surreal for the Detroit, Mich. native who followed his older cousins’ lead as they pursued football through their youth and quickly found a love for the sport.

“It is definitely something that I have talked with over the past couple months with my teammates Tevin (Kellum), Rock (Hall) and my family,” Haley said. “I say all the time that it puts a smile on my face because over the years there is a lot of stuff that could have had me down to where I could thought to myself, “yeah this football thing isn’t for me.” There were a lot of times I could have gone down the wrong path. I could achieve this dream, I just have to put my mind to it.”

It hasn’t been the most narrow path to success for the Haley, who originally signed with current University of Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly when he was with University of Cincinnati. Haley’s grade point average was too low so he was unable to qualify to play for the Bearcats. So instead he found his way to Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Mich., where he played two seasons for current Ferris State University coach Tony Annese.

“We went 11-1 in my second season at Grand Rapids Community College and were contenders for the National Championship but lost in the bowl game,” Haley said. “After that season there were a lot of different things going on. I had a lot of Division I-AA schools targeting me and they weren’t offering as much money as I needed. UMC  was really a last minute thing. I took my visit late in May. This was the only school that really showed a lot of interest in me and that was willing to give me a shot. Here I am. It was a long hard, journey to UMC. But I it was for the best.”

Since arriving at UMC, Haley has shattered the single-season rushing record of 2004 All-America Honorable Mention R.J. Rollins. On top of Rollins’ single-season rushing attempts record en route to a 2011 All-NSIC North Division First Team nod. Though he has accomplished a lot for the Golden Eagles, his work is not done.

“I want to break the single-game rushing record,” Haley said. “R.J. Rollins has it with 384 yards. I believe it is a goal that I can accomplish. I talked to the O-Line and if that goal happens they will be eating really well after the game.”

Haley will look to accomplish the goal in his last game donning #7 in the Maroon and Gold Saturday at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks, N.D. It will be bittersweet for Haley as he and eight other Golden Eagles wraps up their collegiate careers against the University of Mary.

“It’s a lot,” Haley said. “Words can’t explain what is going through my head as I head into my last college game. I’ve been playing football all of my life and this could possibly be my last game if I don’t get the opportunity to go on to the next level.”

Though his collegiate career is almost over, he and Cecil Brown, Jr. will play in the All-America Bowl Dec. 22 at the Metrodome in Minneapolis and hopefully his career will continue onto the NFL gridiron.

His path has taken him from Detroit to Grand Rapids to Crookston, and though it is harder to meet the goal as a NCAA Division II player, it is not impossible. Ask New England Patriots’ running back Danny Woodhead (Chadron State University) or John Kuhn of the Green Bay Packers (Shippensburg University). Maybe not so far down the line young football players across the country will be able to look at Haley’s whirlwind path as a model and say I can accomplish my goals if I set my mind to them. If this happens, one thing is for sure, UMC fans will continue to rally behind the man that has given Golden Eagles a lot to cheer about the last two seasons.