There was a reason Don McCauley was given jersey 23 when he enrolled at North Carolina. It was next to Charlie Justice’s famous number 22. That’s how highly Bill Dooley and his football staff thought of McCauley.
When Dooley was hired to rebuild Carolina’s football program in the late 1960s he needed a star tailback for his I-formation offense. McCauley was that player. He became the school’s best all-around performer since Justice. He was a power back with breakaway speed. He also was a great receiver, handled his team’s punting, threw halfback passes and returned kicks.
McCauley’s career earned him a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame. He was an easy choice for the ACC’s Silver Anniversary team. He was also named one of the ACC’s top 50 athletes in any sport.
He had a breakout junior season. After a 1-4 start, the Tar Heels won four of their last five games. McCauley averaged 143.2 yards rushing down the stretch and finished with 1,092 yards. He was named ACC Player of the Year.
As a senior in 1970 he had 324 carries for 1,720 yards. That broke O.J. Simpson’s NCAA record for yards in a season. He led the nation in all-purpose running, touchdowns and points.
His 21 touchdowns and 126 points were ACC single-season records and were not equaled until last fall. He was again ACC Player of the Year and additionally Athlete of the Year. He became the first ACC running back to be named a consensus All-America.
An 8-3 record in his senior season earned the Tar Heels their first bowl invitation since 1963. Counting the 1970 Peach Bowl, McCauley ran for over 100 yards in 16 of his final 17 games in a Carolina uniform.
He saved his greatest performance for his last game in Kenan Stadium, rushing for 279 yards on 47 carries in a 59-34 win over Duke. He had five touchdowns that day as the Tar Heels nailed down their bowl bid. All his figures in that game were league records at the time.
His durability was one of his best traits. As a senior he averaged 29.5 carries per game. With the physical pounding a tailback must take, that’s one of the most incredible numbers of all.
“He got better as the game went along,” quarterback Paul Miller once said. “He would wear defenses down. He was a great blocker and knew how to truly fake a handoff that set up our play-action passes. He probably got hit as much when he didn’t have the ball as when he did. But, he never complained.”
He left Carolina with 26 school records. Despite having just three varsity seasons, he still is seventh in ACC history in all-purpose yardage.
McCauley was Baltimore’s first-round draft choice in 1971 and spent 11 seasons with the Colts. He broke many of the rushing and scoring records held by Lenny Moore and Alan Ameche. His power running and pass catching ability made him one of the top third-down threats in the NFL. Heading into the 2009 season, he still ranked fifth in Colt history in touchdowns, seventh in receptions and ninth in scoring.
McCauley now serves as major gift director in Carolina’s Educational Foundation. He and his wife, Tracey, have three daughters.
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