All D’Onta Foreman wanted was for a team to want him.
It’s a feeling he has chased since winning the Doak Walker award as a star running back at the University of Texas. Foreman eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards for the Longhorns. The Houston Texans drafted him months later in the third round of the 2017 draft.
Then injuries, grief and hardships began dominating his life.
After his rookie season he tore his Achilles tendon and the Texans waived him. The following season Foreman tore his bicep 14 days after signing with Indianapolis. Again he rehabbed, while his agent searched for a team that wanted him. Foreman thought a brief stint with the Falcons last summer was his last chance.
He lasted a month in Atlanta but did not make it through the team’s final training camp cuts.
“I felt like it was over with. I feel like a lot of people counted me out,” Foreman said of his NFL career. “I never was ready to be done. I just felt like that was the case. I was trying to figure out what was going to be my next step.”
Then tragedy struck.
His father, Darreck Foreman, passed away on Oct. 15 in a singular vehicle accident in Oklahoma. He was 47 years old.
“I remember one of the last conversations I had with my dad, he was pretty much telling me that I could still play at a high level,” Foreman said. “Coming from him, that was one of those things that helped me stay focused even though things weren’t going my way at the time. Before he passed away, I told him any opportunity that I got from last year, I would take it.”
In his grief, Foreman did not stop running. Rather his training intensified. He focused on landing one more NFL opportunity to honor the commitment he made to his late father.
At 25 years old, he’d only had 29 NFL carries over three seasons while playing for four different teams. But his father believed he could still play. So did the Titans, who signed Foreman last season after their bell-cow back, Derrick Henry, broke his foot against the Colts in Week 8.
Foreman capitalized on the opportunity he and his father manifested. He rushed for 556 yards in nine games, had a 4.9 yard-per-carry average, scored three touchdowns and had three 100-yard games. From Weeks 13 to 17, Foreman gained 482 yards rushing, the Titans won four games and finished with the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
Henry, a two-time rushing champion and 2020 AP Offensive Player of the Year, is an overpowering and irreplaceable offensive talent. But Foreman, who stands 6 foot 1 and weighs 236 pounds, did his best Henry impersonation and the league took notice.
“I’m excited about what he brings. Last year, we had three explosive backs, and I think we needed someone with a little more power, a little more size. That will complement us with Christian (McCaffrey’s) running style and when we need to finish games,” general manager Scott Fitterer said of the Panthers signing Foreman in March. “When it’s third-and-1, we can put the big body in and wear guys down and push the pile. That was an emphasis going into it was adding that bigger back. When you go back and look at what D’Onta did last year, I think he fits the mold of exactly what we’re looking for.”
Foreman joins a talented tailback room headlined by McCaffrey and second-year runner Chubba Hubbard. All three running backs totaled more than 2,000 scrimmage yards in a single season during their college careers.
“I didn’t know that all of us had like 2,000 yards at some point in college. So that was kind of that was kind of crazy,” Foreman said. “Definitely a lot of talent in the room.”
Foreman should be involved in the offense regardless of McCaffrey and Hubbard’s roles this season. He brings natural size that his two teammates lack, and the Panthers coveted signing a power runner during free agency.
But his role could increase at a moment’s notice. McCaffrey has missed 23 of the past 33 games, battling hamstring, shoulder, ankle and glute injuries. Last week at OTAs, McCaffrey said he has been attacking his rehab and feels great as a result.
However, coach Matt Rhule already ruled him out for the entire preseason, opening the door for Hubbard and Foreman to compete for the No. 2 running back job. Both will get plenty of carries throughout training camp.
Foreman is spending OTAs getting to know his new teammates. He goes from watching Henry eclipse 2,000 yards in Tennessee to backing up the league’s highest-paid running back in McCaffrey. Everything is different for him but he’s embracing his new challenges and fresh opportunity.
It took four years of hardship and adversity, but Foreman finally feels wanted again.
“I saw a team who I felt wanted me to be here,” Foreman said of signing with Carolina. “That was one of the biggest things for me, coming somewhere where I felt like I was wanted. Somewhere that I felt like I could fit in.”