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Broncos' Hebron thrives in kick-starting role; Ex-Gibbons running back makes mark as return man


DENVER -- Vaughn Hebron, role player for the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, has no misgivings.

"This is my stage, my time to shine," the former Cardinal Gibbons School standout was saying. "When all is said and done, my contribution will come on kickoff returns. That's what I put my main focus on."

The would-be running back has carved a niche as one of the NFL's most nifty kick returners. He ranked third in the AFC with a 26.4-yard average runback and broke a scintillating 95-yard touchdown return against Miami in the regular season.

He picked up a Super Bowl ring a year ago and will play in his second straight AFC championship game on Sunday against the New York Jets.

In a six-year pro career, Hebron has played behind Herschel Walker in Philadelphia and Terrell Davis in Denver.

Davis, the league's Most Valuable Player this season, has 1,106 carries the past three years. Hebron has 107 as his stand-in.

"Terrell is durable," Hebron said in understatement. "A lot of times, I'm just chillin' on the sideline."

At 5 feet 8 and 192 pounds, he is making the most of his opportunity. Twice this season, Hebron, 28, was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

In a 33-26 win over Cincinnati last November, he blocked his first career punt to set up a touchdown, and had a 38-yard kickoff return to set up the winning score.

"I take a lot of satisfaction in it," he said. "I'm proud of this season. One of the things you realize about this business is it's a team sport. The teams that are successful, their players accept their roles."

In cameo appearances in the backfield with the Broncos and Eagles, Hebron showed an ability to run the ball. In 273 career carries, he is averaging 4.2 yards.

Hebron said some of his skills as a running back -- he played at Virginia Tech -- transfer to his job as kick returner.

"I utilize it the same way," he said. "You have a wide vision. Kickoff returns are designed to go one side or the other. I let my running back skills take me to the opening. I see a hole, I take it. I don't care if it's on the right side and the play was supposed to go left."

Hebron, signed by Philadelphia in 1993 as an undrafted free agent, has grown to appreciate the importance of his role.

"Back in the end zone [receiving a kickoff], it's up to you to gain momentum or take it away," he said.

Pub Date: 1/15/99

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