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All-time UNC Football Top 25 Countdown: No. 5 Don McCauley

After 46 seasons, McCauley still holds the single-season rushing record at UNC

Photo courtesy UNC Athletic Communications

This summer, Tar Heel Blog will profile the top 25 players in the history of the North Carolina football program. The rankings were determined by votes from readers and staff.

A year after winning the ACC with a 9-2 record in 1963, Carolina’s record dropped to 5-5. Two subsequent seasons below .500 led to the departure of Jim Hickey. Bill Dooley was serving as an assistant coach to his brother Vince with the University of Georgia when Carolina called. The Bulldogs were fresh off a SEC title and a Cotton Bowl victory, and Dooley was tasked with rebuilding the Tar Heels.

Don McCauley’s senior season signaled the resurgence of the North Carolina Tar Heels and the beginning of “Tailback U.” His nation and conference leading statistics placed a spotlight on Chapel Hill and began UNC’s tradition of producing top running backs. McCauley was Carolina’s first 1,000-yard rusher, and starting with that first milestone in 1969, the Tar Heels produced 23 1,000-yard rushers in the next 24 seasons.

Career at UNC

Don McCauley Career Statistics

Year Carries Rushing Yards Average Touchdowns Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Return Yards Return Touchdowns
Year Carries Rushing Yards Average Touchdowns Receiving Yards Receiving Touchdowns Return Yards Return Touchdowns
1968 75 360 4.8 2 313 1 550 0
1969 204 1092 5.4 8 238 2 440 1
1970 324 1720 5.3 19 235 2 66 0
Totals 603 3172 5.3 29 786 5 1056 1

In 1970, McCauley broke O.J. Simpson’s NCAA single-season record for rushing yards. His 1,720 rushing yards that season remains the most for a season at Carolina. His 2,021 all-purpose yards that season is also tops in program history. McCauley led the nation in rushing and all-purpose yards in 1970. His career all-purpose yards total of 5,014 is the second-best in school history, while his 3,172 career rushing yards ranks fifth.

That same year, his 21 total touchdowns and 19 rushing touchdowns remain the best at UNC in a single season. The scoring total of 126 points is the second-most in a season in program history. McCauley’s 342 plays in 1970 (324 rushes, 15 receptions, 3 returns) are the most plays and the most rushes in a single season at Carolina.

McCauley has the most career and single-season yards gained rushing per game at Carolina with 156.4 in 1970 and 102.3 for his career. He has the school record for most consecutive games gaining 100 yards or more with eight, and his 17 100-yard games are the third-most in a career at UNC.

For many years, McCauley held the record for longest kickoff return in Kenan Memorial Stadium. His 97-yard return against Wake Forest in 1969 was the record for 44 years until it was broken by T.J. Logan in 2013.

In the same mold as Carolina great Charlie Justice, McCauley was used extensively on special teams. During his All-American season, McCauley was needed to punt the ball for the Tar Heels. He had 48 punts that year, totaling 1,845 yards for a 38.4-yard average.

After the 1970 season, McCauley held two NCAA season records, five ACC game records, six ACC season records, five ACC career records, six UNC game records, five UNC season records, and three UNC career records.

Honors and Awards

McCauley was a 1970 Consensus First-Team All-American. Because of this distinction, his #23 jersey is honored in Kenan.

McCauley led the ACC in rushing in 1969 and 1970. He was named to the All-ACC First-Team and earned ACC Player of the Year in both seasons. McCauley was the first, and one of only two UNC players with Mike Voight, to be a two-time ACC Player of the Year. At the end of his senior year, he was named the 1971 ACC Athlete of the Year.

In 2001, McCauley was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. The next year, he was named one of the Top 50 ACC football players during the first 50 years of the league. In 2010, McCauley was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Top Games at UNC

In the regular season finale against Duke in 1970, McCauley ran for 279 yards. This is the fourth-most rushing yards in a single game in program history, and his 47 rushes are tied for the school record for most plays and most rushes in a single game.

The game was tied 7-7 after the first quarter when the Tar Heels put 17 on the board to go into the half leading 24-10. The Carolina offense scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to put the game out of reach of the Blue Devils, despite Duke scoring 24 points in the fourth. McCauley had five touchdowns in UNC’s 59-34 victory that day.

Combined with his 184 rushing yards against Clemson in the previous game, McCauley holds the school record for most rushing yards in two consecutive games with 463 yards.

The 1970 Tar Heels broke a six-year postseason drought with an invitation to the Peach Bowl to conclude McCauley’s collegiate career.

After UNC

McCauley was drafted with the 22nd overall pick in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Colts. He spent the first two years of his career in Baltimore in the backfield with the legendary Johnny Unitas. McCauley’s second and third seasons in the NFL were his most productive. He did not put up the kind of numbers in the NFL that he did in college, but he remained a humble and hard-working teammate throughout his 11 seasons in the NFL.

McCauley is now the Director of Scholarship Donor Relations with the Rams Club. Previously, he worked as the major gifts director with the Kenan-Flagler School of Business.