November 21, 1998
by Jerry Barca
Last Saturday in Notre Dame’s game against Navy, Irish senior tailback took his 10th carry of the game and ran the ball seven yards.
On the surface, the rush didn’t seem like much. After all, he has carried the ball a total of 812 times in his storied career. But, this short gain was different.
The carry gave Denson 4,134 career rushing yards and he is now the all-time career rushing leader in Irish history. Denson broke Allen Pinkett’s record of 4,131 set from 1982-85.
In all, Denson carried the ball 25 times against the Midshipmen for x107 yards and enters his final career game against LSU today with 4,192 career yards.
“I didn’t even know I broke the record until someone told me,” says Denson. “I congatulated all my offensive linemen. The greatest thing about getting the record is that it was a team goal. Only because of my teammates do I have it.”
This is not the only record Denson has laid claimed to in his run for a place in Irish football history. Denson’s career average of 99.8 rushing yards per game is a school record while his performance against Navy was the 22nd 100-yard rushing game of his career, breaking another school record last Saturday that belonged to Pinkett as he had 21.
“All of these are great accomplishments and they will be something I can always take with me,” says the Denson, a native of Lauderhill, Fla. “Doing these things with this team really makes it great. My name might go down in history, but it is the team work and camaraderie that has allowed me to achieve all this.”
Pinkett is proud to see his mark broken by Denson.
“Autry is a great kid, he’s well mannered and you can tell he’s a positive force on the team,” says Pinkett, who now lives in Houston and works for the Sun Financial Group. “He runs like he wants to win and he is what Notre Dame would want to represent their football team.”
For Denson, these accomplishments are the result of the hard work he produces on a daily basis. With every snap, run, catch or return Denson brings a winning attitude to this team.
“He’s never satisfied with just getting by,” says Notre Dame fullback Jamie Spencer. “He is always striving to make the play and get those extra couple of yards. Autry is a leader, he is always doing whatever it takes to set the standard at level we need to play at.”
Irish flanker Bobby Brown, a fellow Lauderhill native, has seen Denson play for many years. Before they came to play at Notre Dame, the two were rivals when Denson’s Nova High School would take on Brown’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
“If there’s one thing I know from being on this team and playing against Autry in the past, it is that I want Autry Denson on any one of my teams,” says Brown. “He is just that much of a player, a person and a leader.”
Denson reacts to his teammates comments with a smile. He knows inside that all the effort he puts forth has not gone without notice.
“As far as Jamie and Bobby, it is great to hear those statements from your peers,” says the 5-10 dynamo. “I’m a competitor, no matter who we’re playing and what the score might be, I know we can win. I was taught never to give up.”
Much of what Denson has been taught in life has direct correlation to whom he credits for his successes. Characteristic of a true leader Denson acknowledges his support system whenever he receives praise.
“The Lord and my mom are always there,” says Denson. “My mother has taught me the values you need to live life. She is a strong, independent, outspoken person. I know to listen to her, she’ll lead and I’ll follow.”
Growing up through a divorce can sometimes ruin the life of a child, but Janice Franklin, Denson’s mother, ensured that none that would happen to her son. Franklin has always been the number one teacher in her son’s life.
“One thing I’ve always tried to teach Autry is to be responsible and take ownership of what he does in life,” says Franklin.
Though Franklin does recall Autry always being a leader, there was a time when that leadership did not translate into good grades in the classroom. Getting a D in any class was unacceptable and in junior high school Autry brought home a D.
“I remember him saying ‘The teacher gave me a D,'” says Franklin. “I told him the teacher didn’t give him the grade – he earned it. He needed to know that the effort you put into life will give you the results you deserve.”
That proved to be one of the most important lessons Denson would ever learn. That simple conversation with his mother continues to spur Denson on a quest to be the best in everything he does.
In his freshman year of high school Denson played on the varsity football team. This meant attending practice 30 minutes from his house everyday. Denson’s coaches told him he did not need to be at every practice. There were occasions, after a long day of work, when Franklin wished her son would have taken his coaches up on the offer of missing some practices, but that was never the case.
“Autry said ‘To be the best I have to be there at practice,'” says Franklin. “It just shows you when he starts something, he wants to finish it the right way.”
This desire to be the best was the driving force behind Denson’s arrival at Notre Dame and his domination of opposing defenses. This season, Denson has dismantled his foes with his slippery running style, gaining him an average of 116.7 yards per game.
Denson will be the first to tell you that his personal success has come from working hard everyday. Getting up at 6:45 a.m. every morning during his freshman season to lift weights was one way Denson persevered in his pursuit of football greatness. At each and every practice, the Irish running back is pushing himself to give more to the team and the game. Through all this giving, Denson has taken some guidance from football.
“It’s a great game, I love football,” says Denson. “I don’t know what I would be doing without the game of football. What you learn from football you can carry with you all through life. Things like discipline, hard work, dedication, teamwork and sacrifice are the things you need to learn and understand in order to be successful at anything in life.”
In his first few seasons playing for Notre Dame, Denson discovered facts about football and life. As a young running back, he was always looking for the big play and this did not sit well with then-Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz.
“We always tease to Autry about the agreement he arrived at with Coach Holtz,” says Spencer. “Coach Holtz wanted the first five yards of every run to belong to him and Autry could do what he wanted with the rest of the play.”
“What Coach Holtz was trying to do was make me look at the bigger picture,” Denson says. “What he wanted to do was get the hard yards, make the tough runs and then realize that the long runs will come.
“Coach Holtz was telling me to get the best out of every run. He was teaching me to be a patient runner. To be successful in life you need to give your best to everything and see the big picture and this is how I can apply this football knowledge to life. If I give my all to life then the big runs will happen and I will get the most out of life.”