By MICKEY SPAGNOLA DallasCowboys.com Columnist May 18, 2004, 6:45 p.m. (CDT) IRVING, Texas - Julius Jones is lucky. He isn't the guy following Emmitt Smith. That thankless distinction fell upon Troy Hambrick. Emmitt Smith was lucky. He wasn't the guy following Herschel Walker and Tony Dorsett. Paul Palmer was that guy. Herschel Walker was lucky, too. He had played two seasons with Dorsett, and by 1987 the one-time Cowboys all-time leading rusher was starting to fade. The transition from Dorsett to Walker in 1988 was seamless. Tony Dorsett was lucky. He wasn't the guy immediately following the six-year reign of Calvin Hill and Duane Thomas. Doug Dennison and Robert Newhouse shouldered that responsibility. Calvin Hill, well, he wasn't so lucky. He was the guy who had to replace Don Perkins. And that was Don Perkins, Dallas Cowboys leading rusher from 1961-68. That was Don Perkins, who helped run this team into two NFL championship games. That was Don Perkins, and with the exception of the franchise's first season, the only leading rusher the Cowboys had known. That was Don Perkins, destined for the Cowboys' Ring of Honor. "You feel pressure if you're the top guy (in the draft)," says Hill, the Cowboys' first-round pick in 1969. "And I felt pressure because I was from Yale. That was the biggest pressure because I'm from Yale and they went out on a limb drafting me. I couldn't fail." Yale? Suffice to say, the Cowboys had never drafted a player from Yale, that bastion of academics, but hardly some football factory. Who ever heard of taking a player from an Ivy League school? Hey, Michigan State. Or Alabama. Or Georgia Tech. Or Rice, for heaven's sake. But, those crazy Cowboys, Yale? Now that was pressure, and really, Hill is the only member of this long line of running back royalty dotting Cowboys history thrust into a lead role the season immediately following one of the kings. So he knows a little about what is awaiting Jones, only a second-round draft choice, but the team's first pick in this 2004 draft nevertheless. Jones arrives with expectations, at least from the fans and media, and those expectations multiplied last week once the Cowboys released Hambrick, last year's leading rusher with 972 yards. But one of the few seasons of uncommon mediocrity at running back in the team's 44-year history cushions Jones' arrival. The assumption will be, anything is better than Hambrick, who just signed a one-year deal with Oakland, where he hopes to at least become the capable backup to last year's leading rusher Tyrone Wheatley. And that Oakland running back bar runs far below the Bay Bridge, Wheatley gaining only 678 yards last year and his backup, Charlie Garner, just 553 more. At least he's not playing caddy to the NFL's all-time leading rusher anymore. Or worse, following in his immediate footsteps, which last year turned into a wet noose in the desert sun for Hambrick. See, Hill inadvertently was charged with replacing the franchise's all-time leading rusher. Inadvertently because - and here is a little-known fact - while the Cowboys selected the Yale running back with the 24th pick in the first round, he points out how the Cowboys intended him to play tight end - to train under Pettis Norman for a year and then take over in 1970. As the story goes, Walt Garrison and Les Shy were going to replace Perkins at fullback, and the incumbent tailback at the time was Dan Reeves, backed up by Craig Baynham. Well, that summer Reeves' bad knee worsened. Baynham bruised his ribs. So after being gone from camp two weeks to participate in the College All-Star Game, Hill returned to discover Tom Landry wanting him ready to play tailback in the second preseason game against San Francisco. "I gained like 120 yards," Hill said. The rest, as they say, is history. Landry would then inform Hill just before the final preseason game he would be the starting tailback in the season opener - a gigantic leap from Yale to showing up at the Cotton Bowl on Sept. 21, 1969, against the St. Louis Cardinals and turning 18 carries into 70 NFL yards. "I just focused on the fact, as a rookie, you sort of live one day at a time," Hill said. He realized that the first day of training camp. After calisthenics, Landry sent Hill into the ol' Oklahoma Drill. A blocker, a running back and a tackler. Run straight ahead, and let the best man win. He remembers being the runner or the blocker - "And I didn't know much about blocking," Hill says - for the first 16 or 17 plays. "I was exhausted," Hill said. The Cowboys ran the drill two or three more times, and Landry blew his whistle for the next drill. Hill had basically worked the entire drill with most everyone else watching. "I remember thinking, 'I got three more weeks of this, two more hours of this practice, I don't know how I'm going to make it,'" Hill recalls as if it were yesterday. But he remembers telling himself, live one day at a time. Hill developed that motto during one of the more traumatic transition periods of his life. He had grown up in Baltimore in what he called a "segregated community." The only white folks he had been in contact with on a regular basis were the guy who owned the drug store in the neighborhood and the ice cream man. He had gone to segregated schools, needless to say. "My world was totally segregated," Hill said. But on Sept. 19, 1961, at the tender age of 13, his parents drove him three hours to Riverdale School - an integrated, 12-grade boarding school located just outside New York City. Uh, make that barely integrated, since Hill recalls just five other black students there when he arrived. He went not to play football, mind you - he had never played organized football to that point - but on an academic chance of a lifetime. Talk about your world being turned upside down. I mean, guys in his neighborhood, if they went to college, they went to "Morgan State or Maryland State," Hill said of the predominately black schools, "or they worked in the steel mills." Not Riverdale. Yet, here he was, telling himself how he had to take this all one day at a time. "So when I got to Dallas and they threw me in at running back, I drew back on that experience," Hill says. Hill figures Jones will much better prepared than he was for the pressure cooker here in Dallas, where, as has been pointed out before, the leading rusher in these parts has been named Perkins, Hill, Thomas, Dorsett, Walker or Smith for 39 of the franchise's 44 years. Ring of Honor guys. Pro Football Hall of Fame guys. The NFL's all-time leading rusher guy. But, as Hill says, at least this kid went to Notre Dame. At least this kid had to re-establish himself with the Fighting Irish this past season after being banished from the team one year for academic reasons. And at least Hambrick supplied somewhat of a buffer between now and Emmitt's heralded then. "Plus, more than any of that," Hill says of the unrelenting pressure mounting on Jones to become the next in a long line of great Dallas Cowboys running backs, along with possibly the guy to make everyone forget Emmitt Smith, "he's got to be the guy to keep Bill Parcells happy. For me, I realized as long as Landry was happy, I was happy. "So Bill will set the standard for that." Ah, the lucky guy. Many thought Troy Hambrick was off his rocker by purposely discontinuing participation in the Cowboys' off-season workout program, thus leaving Bill Parcells little choice but to release last year's leading rusher on Thursday. Hambrick, already on the Cowboys' bubble, saw his situation at The Ranch as a dead-end street. Well, his gamble at least gives him a fighting chance to make a roster in 2004, the Raiders signing him to a one-year deal and throwing him into the running back fray with Tyrone Wheatley, Justin Fargas, Amos Zereoue and J. R. Redmond, who is expected to be moved to fullback. Here, he already knew the score. The Cowboys sent three assistants coaches to the four-day NFL's Coaches Symposium 2004 this past week in Orlando, Fla. Attending were defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, linebackers coach Gary Gibbs and kicking coach Steve Hoffman. That the Cowboys released rookie free-agent punter Josh Boies on Tuesday suggests Mat McBriar and Ryan Flinn will be the likely candidates to battle for the punting job in training camp. McBriar might be the earlier leader, at least in the eyes of even some of the players watching him work out. The NFL doors swing open this week for all the draft choices and rookie free agents from schools having completed their spring semesters. Seven of the Cowboys' eight draft choices and 10 of the 12 rookie free agents reported this week to begin participating in the team's off-season workout program. Rutgers cornerback Nathan Jones is expected in May 22, as is Columbia free-agent safety Steve Cargile. Oregon State free-agent wide receiver James Newson won't arrive until June 14.