Saturday, October 30, 1999
The TCU running back isBy Paul Arnett
likely to be top contender for
the prestigious award in 2000
It's a little late to make a serious run for this year's Heisman Trophy, but not too soon to let the voters know about the man who could be a leading contender in the next millennium.
Texas Christian's LaDainian Tomlinson may be the best running back too few have heard of beyond the city limits of Fort Worth. Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, Alabama's Shaun Alexander and Virginia's Thomas Jones already have their names in lights. But don't be too surprised if the man they call LT plants a few bulbs of his own before the season is through.
"LaDainian isn't going to be a well-kept secret much longer,'' TCU head coach Dennis Franchione predicted of his junior back, who is currently first in the nation in rushing, averaging 170.4 yards a game."Even we've been pleasantly surprised by his performances on the football field this season.''
His first two years in the program, Tomlinson served as an understudy for Basil Mitchell, who currently plays for the Green Bay Packers. Not that he was glued to the bench, mind you. He rushed for 1,255 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But these coming attractions weren't enough to convince Franchione that Tomlinson was ready to be the feature presentation. All that changed, however, in the season opener where the 5-foot-11, 217-pounder carried the ball 28 times for 170 yards and one touchdown against Arizona's vaunted Desert Swarm defense.
"I don't want to say that was his coming-out party because we had some idea of what he could do,'' Franchione said. "But when you watch him take over a football game as we have a few times this season, you begin to realize this man is something special.''
This man was born in the Baptist bible belt better known as Waco, Texas, some 20-odd years ago. His senior season at Waco University High, Tomlinson rushed for an astonishing 2,554 yards and 39 touchdowns. The second-team all-state selection had seven games of 200 yards or more.
Baylor University is the college of choice for most folks growing up on the edge of the Texas hill country. Instead, he opted for TCU located about 100 miles north, straight up I-35.
"And I've never regretted my choice,'' Tomlinson said. "Coach Fran came in and is getting things moving in the right direction. We're not disappointed at how we have played this year because we can still reach our goal of being in a bowl game.''
For that to happen, Tomlinson has to help the Horned Frogs run the table. If they win their remaining four games - after tonight's key Western Athletic Conference meeting, the final three matchups are at home - it's likely it could secure them a spot in the Mobile Bowl.
"But before we can think about any of that, we have to get a win against an improving Hawaii team,'' Tomlinson said. "They kind of remind me of what we were like last year, a team on the rise. So, I know what they're going through. For us, it's simple. We've got to win and keep on winning the rest of the way."
TCU has had its moments this decade. Prior to 1991, the Horned Frogs managed only two winning seasons in 25 years. They have put together four winning campaigns in the 1990s, including two bowl appearances. TCU lost to Virginia in the 1994 Independence Bowl and stunned Southern California in last year's Sun Bowl.
Tomlinson played a small part in that win, carrying the ball 12 times for 30 yards. That day belonged to Mitchell, who rushed for 185 yards and two touchdowns in TCU's 28-19 win over USC.
"I want to have a day like that to help us win a bowl game,'' Tomlinson said. "But this is a team game. I wouldn't be able to gain the yards I have without the right plays called and the blocking up front.''
Look for Franchione to call Tomlinson's number early and often, especially out of the famed speed option. So far, he has gained 1,193 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
The Doak Walker Award nominee would like nothing better than to have continued success this evening and maybe take the first steps toward the famed Heisman Trophy.
"I don't think about any of that stuff,'' Tomlinson said. "All you can do is go out and perform your best, and see where that takes you.''
When: 6:05 p.m. today
UH vs. TCU
Where: Aloha Stadium
TV: Delayed at 9 p.m. on KFVE
RealAudio: Live Internet broadcast
Radio: Live on KCCN (1420-AM)
Tickets: $3-10 UH students; $10 students and seniors; $15 end zone; $17 sideline. Call 484-1122 or 1-800-291-3999.