CLEVELAND - (KRT) - William Green, a running back for the Cleveland Browns, grew up idolizing Randall Cunningham, the former Eagles quarterback. When he was a student at Holy Spirit High in South Jersey, he remembers, he was excited when the Eagles selected Donovan McNabb in the draft.
Green says he has come a long way since those days. He has achieved his dream of playing in the NFL, even though the road he traveled to get there included arrests, suspensions, and a childhood he prefers not to talk about publicly.
So far this season, Green, a self-proclaimed "new man," has stayed out of trouble off the field and been focused on it. He has run the ball 88 times for 367 yards, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He hopes to add to his totals in a big way today when the Eagles (5-0) visit the Browns (3-3).
Green, a native of Atlantic City, was a force last Sunday, gaining 115 yards on 25 carries in the Browns' 34-17 win over the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.
Green splits time with Lee Suggs, who has carried 46 times for 131 yards and who caught five passes for 100 yards against the Bengals. Green has started every game this season, although as of Friday, Suggs was listed as No. 1 on the depth chart.
Green, 24, has learned to capitalize on his playing time, and coach Butch Davis usually keeps feeding the ball to the hot hand on game day.
"I feel like I'm running really good," Green said. "I feel like I've come into my own. I'm ready to take off and be a better back. I am splitting time with another back, so I have to do what I can when I'm out there."
Green followed that approach against Cincinnati. On a 79-yard, second-quarter touchdown drive, he shouldered his way downfield like a bouncer making his way through the throng at a "Star Trek convention. He gained 66 yards on eight carries before Jeff Garcia connected with tight end Aaron Shea in the end zone as time ran out in the first half.
"You couldn't ask a kid to run any harder," Davis said. "You couldn't ask him to block any better. On one of the passes, (the Bengals) brought a blitz, and he absolutely slaughtered the guy. The kid is playing good."
Davis' splitting the tailbacks' playing time has not always worked smoothly. Green felt slighted when the coach kept him on the bench for the second half of Cleveland's 17-13 win over the Washington Redskins on Oct. 3. Suggs carried 22 times for 82 yards that day; Green carried just four times for 17 yards.
Davis said then that the disparity was unintentional. And judging by Green's workload last Sunday, coach and player are patching things up.
The same plays are called regardless of which tailback is on the field, Davis said.
Green describes his relationship with Davis as "pretty good.
"He sat me down and talked to me and told me I'd be sharing time," Green said. "He said he wanted to play both of us.
"Obviously, the more I run the ball, the more I'm going to get into a groove. I can only do what's in my control of doing. I feel like the coaches are going to do what they like and what they want to do no matter what I say or what reaction I have."
Green declined to talk about his rocky upbringing in Atlantic City. His mother and father both died of AIDS while he was in high school. He wound up getting a football scholarship to Boston College, where he is second in school history with 33 touchdowns.
Green averaged 3.7 yards per carry as an NFL rookie in 2002 after becoming Cleveland's No. 1 draft pick that year. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, but his season was marred by turmoil.
Besides missing one game because of a shoulder injury, Green was suspended for eight games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. During a domestic dispute, he suffered a stab wound, and the mother of his two children was charged in the incident. In addition, he served three days in jail after his conviction on drunken-driving charges.
This season has been different.
"Definitely, I'm more into my religion," he said. "God is in my life. And when that happens, you're a new man or woman. My religion has been important to me since I was a kid. I'm trying to go back to that and stay consistent with that."
Davis said he respects the player - and person - Green is working to become.
"In 31 years of coaching, you make a lot of decisions based on gut feelings on how you feel about people and who deserves second chances," Davis said during a conference call with reporters.
"There's very few guys playing in the National Football League that had much tougher childhoods than William Green. He's really a good, good person at heart. This organization believed he deserved that second opportunity. I believe he's grown and matured. He's doing well for us."
Green's teammates say both he and Suggs are invaluable, and the Browns figure to need all the help they can get from them to beat the Eagles.
"Every time (Green) touches the ball, something happens," offensive lineman Ryan Tucker said. "It's awesome to have two guys like that. It's a win-win for us."