Doug Chapman knew the odds; already had beaten them, in fact.
So some 20 years ago when a team of doctors began to deliver the same sobering news to Chapman – who had chewed through opposing defenses for more than 4,300 yards and 64 touchdowns in what would stand as a Marshall Athletics Hall of Fame career – that his NFL career was over, he didn’t panic.
Instead, with the vision of the gifted running back he always had been, Chapman attacked the open space in front of him and uncorked another decorated career, one that’s filled broadcast booths, a stint in the Atlantic Coast Conference and now a return to his alma mater as Charles Huff’s director of player development and an senior offensive analyst.
Oh, in a bit of serendipity, Chapman is preparing for another momentous moment: he’s just been accepted into the NFL’s Nunn-Wooten Scouting Fellowship back with the same Minnesota Vikings organization that first drafted him from the Thundering Herd in the third round of the 2000 Draft. The seven-year-old program "will give participants hands-on experience as full-time members of an NFL scouting staff, shadowing NFL scouts during a season-long internship that develops their ability to spot talent," per the league.
“It’s kind of coming full circle here twice,” said Chapman, whose broadcasting stops included the Big Ten Network, CBS and ESPN across a decade in the booth. “My fifth year in the league, I had a back injury and multiple doctors told me that it should be career-ending and that to continue to play was to risk severe long-term damage, potentially paralysis.”
That’s when Chapman accelerated into his vision. He had departed Marshall both as part of the Herd’s final then-Division I-AA national championship squad from his freshman year in 1996 and an integral component of that program’s ascension to college football’s top level, the Football Bowls Subdivision.
He also had left school a semester short of graduation 22 years ago to prepare for his professional playing career, a minor obstacle Chapman hurdled with his omnipresent resilience.
The broadcast booth, a one-year turn as an academic advisor in Georgia Tech’s football program and even success in the field of sports medicine didn’t satiate the Chesterfield, Virginia, native’s itch to be around the game of football.
Chapman strived for more – and, just as importantly, believed strongly he had more to give the game that, along with his parents’ guidance, had given him so much.
As he talked with former Marshall great and long-time NFL quarterback Chad Pennington when their alma mater pivoted away from Doc Holliday into a new era, the affable Chapman reached out to Charles Huff, a similarly charismatic figure who had embraced the Marshall culture during the interview process.
Chapman was struck by Huff’s approach; not just on the field, where Huff’s debut season with the Herd last fall turned heads across the country and cemented Huff as one of the sport’s rising stars, but also how Huff leaned into the Marshall Way.
“Chad Pennington just connected us,” Chapman said. “I grew up in Virginia, and Coach Huff attended college at Hampton University, and had played ball with a few people I know from Richmond. He was familiar with me and I was familiar with him as well.
“But what stood out is that it was just important to him that he had people here who brought legitimacy to what he was selling and telling kids on their recruiting visits. I’m one of four former players on staff right now. He thought it was very important to bring guys back into the fold, to bring the Marshall family back together.”
Following a year back at his alma mater, Chapman is preparing for his week-long stint with the Vikings in the Nunn-Wooten program – a move that benefits the Herd family and further amplifies Chapman’s career arc.
He got the call from an old friend.
“Actually, the person who reached out to me to let me know that I had been selected was Tom West, who was one of the first people I met when the Vikings had drafted me,” Chapman said of Minnesota’s long-time media relations ace. “He said, ‘Hey, you’ve been selected for the Fellowship.’
“It’s just been one of those deals where two of the biggest decisions, biggest impacts in my life, one to attend Marshall and two for the Vikings to have drafted me, those places have continued to give back to me. It’s been a blessing; surreal.”
Chapman possesses a lifetime’s knowledge of football and a rookie’s zeal for the opportunity.
“I just want to be an absolute sponge,” Chapman told FootballScoop. “To go in and learn as much as I can from player development, player personnel, every front office person I can sit and have a five-minute conversation with. I want to learn to be a lot more advanced in what I’m doing; you can never learn too much, I don’t care what you’re doing in life.”
Chapman remembers well the advice he gleaned from former Vikings running backs coach Carl Hargrave and still seeks to impart on today’s players.
“He really influenced me and really helped mold me and see things outside of just being a football a player,” Chapman, reinforcing the impacts of his parents, former Marshall coach Bob Pruett, ex-Vikings coach Dennis Green, said of Hargrave. “I tell the kids here at Marshall, ‘Be more than an athlete. Don’t let someone say he’s only an athlete.’ I want to help them think outside the box and utilize talents that they maybe don’t even know they have. I’m eternally grateful to those who helped me realize that.”
Likewise, Chapman’s still leaving that example along his own path and watching close confidant Brad Holmes, now Detroit’s executive vice president and general manager, unwind a similar journey.
“I would love to be in a front office position, eventually,” Chapman said. “Brad Holmes is a friend of mine with the Lions, and I remember when he was a scout for the Rams. You could see it when you talked to him, he was somebody that had that glow, and I saw he was going places.
“For me to sit back and watch his journey, how he handles things in his role, that’s one of my career aspirations. At the end of the day, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being able to have an impact and give back to the young men starting this journey or who are going to take it to next level.”