Mike Gaddis, a former Oklahoma running back who had a football career shortened by devastating knee injuries, died Monday. He was 50 years old and passed away following a long illness.
Gaddis played for the Sooners between 1988-1991. The Carl Albert High School graduate rushed for 2,726 career yards, which ranks No. 13 in OU history despite playing only two-and-a-half seasons.
That number could have been much higher. He suffered a left knee injury against Texas during the 1989 game. He would not return to the field until 1991, missing the entire 1990 campaign.
How good could he have been? His statistics through that sixth game of the 1989 season: 110 carries, 829 yards, 10 touchdowns.
Former Sooners coach Barry Switzer said Gaddis is the best back he recruited in the state of Oklahoma.
“He was on the way to winning the Heisman in his sophomore year. He was leading the nation in rushing,” Switzer told the Tulsa World. “I remember when he blew out his knee in the Texas game. He had already run (62) yards for one (touchdown) and making a cut and hitting open field and looking like he was going to score again and blew out a knee.
“Nobody touched him. He had a total knee reconstruction on that. It ended his career. He was going to be a great superstar.”
Gaddis did return in 1991 and finished with 1,240 yards that season, but many said he was not the same player.
Gaddis was a sixth-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings in 1992. During training camp, he injured his right knee during a non-contact drill while making a cut. He would miss that season and never play in the league.
Both the Oklahoma and the Carl Albert communities were taking Monday’s news hard.
Former Sooners fullback J.D. Runnels is a Carl Albert graduate. While not officially related, he called Gaddis his uncle because of the respect he had for the former OU running back.
“After I signed with OU, he was one of my first phone calls,” Runnels said. “I looked his number up on Google and called his office. I said, ‘Unc, I just wanted to say thank you for pushing me, and I hope I made you proud.’
“I’d put it this way,” Runnels added. “It’s like if you grew up in the same town that Michael Jordan grew up in. Everybody wanted to be Mike. Literally. He was a trend setter.”
Switzer said Gaddis would “play for the Sooners today. I promise you.
“He’d be their running back today if he was playing,” Switzer said. “This guy had it all. He was big and fast, could make people miss. He was a slasher. Hell, he was just a great back. He wouldn’t have started for me as a freshman if he wasn’t. The moment he hit the field, he was different.”