FORT COLLINS, Colo. – Tailback Dee Hart bursting through big holes on a 9-1 team ranked in the Top 25 isn't all that surprising.
That he's doing so wearing the green of Colorado State and not the crimson of Alabama, well, that was rather unanticipated.
A few years ago, Hart envisioned being the next big thing in the 'Bama backfield, following in the footsteps of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy. Only, Hart was buried deep on the depth chart in 2013. Then, he ran into offseason legal issues.
Hart needed a change of scenery, so he left Tuscaloosa for Fort Collins after graduating in July.
Given a second chance, he's run with it, gaining 909 yards and scoring 11 TDs as the 22nd-ranked Rams are off to their best start since 1994.
"I just wanted a new place to play, to do what I love and put my best foot forward," said Hart, whose team hosts New Mexico on Saturday. "Being here and (winning), it's an unbelievable feeling."
These kinds of seasons may be quite common where Hart came from — Alabama is 9-1 and currently ranked No. 2 — but not here.
Not recently, anyway.
Colorado State coach Jim McElwain is quickly raising the program's profile since his arrival from Alabama, where he served as offensive coordinator on two national championship teams and got to know Hart through recruiting him.
That's why the 5-foot-9, 190-pound hard-hitting tailback opted for a fresh start with the Rams. But not before having to do some explaining to his new coach.
Last February, Hart was charged with giving false information and possession of marijuana. Soon after, Alabama said he hadn't been with the team since the Sugar Bowl.
"I was more disappointed in myself than nervous my career might be over," said Hart, a junior with one year of eligibility remaining. "Football is temporary. Your name, that's what lasts forever."
Hart worked on restoring his reputation, graduating from Alabama with a degree in criminal justice, which also allowed him to transfer without sitting out a season. The charges against him were dismissed as well after completion of a diversion program, according to the office of the city attorney in Tuscaloosa.
Colorado State was an easy choice, given his close ties with McElwain. The Rams were actually in need of another explosive back to replace Kapri Bibbs, who bolted for the NFL after setting school records in yards (1,741) and TDs (31).
The 22-year-old Hart joined the Rams in August for training camp. He was guaranteed nothing, even if he did arrive from such a tailback factory as Alabama.
Just the way he preferred it.
"I wanted (teammates) to understand that even though I came from Alabama, that's nothing I'd be throwing around in anyone's face," said Hart, the starter who splits carries with fellow transfer Treyous Jarrells. "I just wanted to come in and play a role, not try to be a macho man. I wanted to do what I could to help the team, even if it was special teams."
Given a chance, he's prospered, turning in five 100-yard games this season. He also had a four-TD performance at San Jose State on Nov. 1.
"Dee's stepped right in and hasn't missed a beat," McElwain said. "But I kind of knew that.
"One of the things when you bring in transfers — and it's one thing we'll always do — is have some kind of background, whether it be one of our coaches, or recruiting, where we know enough about the player that you're not going to disrupt the group by throwing something in there that doesn't fit."
Hart was a highly coveted running back coming out of high school in Orlando, Florida., a five-star prospect who rushed for 2,224 yards and 41 TDs his senior year.
He arrived at Alabama with Richardson (now with Indianapolis) and Lacy (Green Bay) already there. Hart appeared in 17 games for the Crimson Tide, mostly on special teams, but did carry the ball 43 times for 172 yards.
Hart said that trying to remain at Alabama this season was an option even if the team was already loaded at running back with T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and the now-injured Kenyan Drake.
"I don't think they'd have held my troubles against me. But at the same time, I wanted a fresh start," explained Hart, who was raised by his grandmother and said one of his best days was calling her to tell her he earned his degree. "I'm happy (Colorado State) believed in me for what I really am.
"Everyone doesn't get a second chance."