He had the speed: he outran all his Dallas Cowboys teammates with a 4.29-second 40-yard dash. He had the moves, once hurdling completely over an upright defender en route to a scholastic championship game-clinching touchdown. And he had the drive, possessing one of the finest work ethics his high school coach had ever seen.
Put it all together and you’ve got a football player for the ages. Derrick Lassic, North Rockland High School Class of 1988, parlayed his physical gifts and inner fortitude into one of the greatest gridiron careers in Rockland athletic history. He went on to star at the University of Alabama and spent three years in the NFL with the Cowboys.
At the conclusion of his high school career, Lassic—then known as Derrick Owens—was dubbed “the best pure tailback I’ve ever coached” by Joe Casarella, North Rockland’s head football coach. At 5-foot-11, 180 pounds (200 in the pros), Lassic’s ability to immediately zip through holes in the line of scrimmage set him up for long ground-gainers and scoring dashes.
And oh, could he score. In his senior season, 1987, Lassic scored a county-record 194 points—more than any other entire team in Rockland that year, and fifth-best ever in New York State up to that point. County records were ripe for his picking that year: he set marks for yards in a season, 1,719; touchdowns in a season, 31; and rushing touchdowns in a season, 26. The sure-handed tailback carried the ball 245 times that season without a fumble, and wound up his scholastic career with 2,846 rushing yards.
He led North Rockland to a 10-0 record that season (as well as a 9-1 mark the previous year) and its third straight Section 1 Class A bowl win, a 29-19 thriller over Roosevelt of Yonkers. In that game, Lassic leaped completely over a stunned Roosevelt defender in the open field and completed a spectacular, game-clinching 60-yard touchdown run that is still talked about today.
Lassic’s milestone season earned him 1987 New York State large-school Player of the Year honors from the state sportswriters association. He was also named to USA Today’s High School All-America football team and received the MVP Junior Heisman award for the New York metropolitan area from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City.
After enrolling at the University of Alabama, Lassic redshirted his freshman season and played sporadically until his junior year, when he was one of two primary ball-carriers for the Crimson Tide. He became the featured back the following year, however, gaining 905 yards on 178 carries (5.1 yards per carry), catching 14 passes for 129 yards, and scoring 11 touchdowns in 12 games.
In the biggest game of the year, the Sugar Bowl versus Miami, Lassic tilted the spotlight his way with a memorable performance. He gained 135 yards and scored two touchdowns, earning game MVP honors while leading the unbeaten Crimson Tide to a 34-13 victory—completing a 13-0 campaign—and the season-ending No. 1 ranking in the national polls.
He also was chosen MVP of the Southeastern Conference championship game against Florida, and gained first-team All-SEC acclaim and honorable mention All-America recognition.
Lassic was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round of the 1993 NFL draft and had to learn the pro game in a hurry. With star running back Emmitt Smith holding out for a better contract, Lassic was inserted into the starting lineup right away, making his debut against the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football’s national stage. He started two more games until Smith returned to the lineup, and played three years as Smith’s backup.