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Happy Tales

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

By Dave Glenn and Staff

October 4, 2004 Winston Becoming UM Legend

CORAL GABLES — Family disputes over a high school prospect's college choice may be common, but rarely does one cause so much strain that the player actually needs to move out of his own house.

For Miami's Eric Winston, who has a history of making high-risk, high-reward choices, it did.

Winston made a verbal commitment to Texas A&M as a senior at Lee High in Midland, Texas, in 2001. Texas A&M was close to home and was the school Winston's stepfather attended. It seemed like an obvious choice for the towering high school tight end. Then Winston took a visit to Miami and fell in love with the campus, the school, the city and the team, and he ultimately had a change of heart.

Winston didn't tell his mother and stepfather that he was wavering on his commitment, and when he signed with the Hurricanes, the parents he lived with were so upset that they kicked him out of the house and refused to sign his letter of intent. As a result, Winston moved in with his biological father, who endorsed his decision by telling him to play where his heart was leading him. Winston didn't speak to his stepfather for months, although eventually they ended their beef.

"It's one of those experiences you wished you didn't have to go through," Winston said, "but you can't say you would want it another way either, because it was an experience you learn from."

Winston said he has never regretted his selection of Miami, and it probably will be a long time before he regrets any of the football decisions he's made in his two-plus seasons with the Hurricanes, especially considering how they've turned out.

Not only is Winston playing for a perennial national title contender instead of a rebuilding program such as Texas A&M, but he's also turned himself into a first-round caliber prospect after a position switch from tight end to offensive tackle following his freshman year in Miami.

As he did with his choice of schools, Winston made sure he did his homework, analyzing the pros and cons of his position move. He clearly was outgrowing the tight end position during his first year on campus, spending most of his freshman season dieting in an attempt to stay under 270 pounds. He's now 6-7 and 310 pounds

When the Miami coaches presented him with the potential move, Winston, who joined UM's program with enough college credits to be a sophomore, researched the NFL salaries of both spots and learned that left tackle was one of the league's highest-paid positions. That's when he was sold.

After playing only one season at left tackle, Winston steadily has developed into one of the best players offensive line coach Art Kehoe has ever tutored. Kehoe, who has coached at Miami since 1981, said Winston has the potential to leave as the best offensive lineman in UM history.

"When you're talking greatest ever, you think about (Leon) Searcy, K.C. Jones and (Bryant) McKinnie," Kehoe said. "If (Winston) stays healthy and works his butt off, then the two best offensive linemen that came out of UM since I've been here will have come out of Midland Lee (High School), Texas. K.C. Jones and Eric Winston. They're the most dominating, physically gifted freaks that we've ever had."

Winston's combination of size, speed (4.8 in the 40-yard dash), strength (squats 515 pounds), athleticism (had the agility and footwork to play tight end and fullback during his rookie season) and intelligence makes him an incredibly dominant college player. He's part of the new evolution at his position, a former tight end turned tackle. He's often compared to former Iowa tackle Robert Gallery, a one-time tight end who went on to be selected second overall by Oakland this year and has impressed in the NFL this fall.

Coming out of Lee High, where he blocked for current Texas tailback Cedric Benson and won two state championships, Winston said his main goal was to face the best competition he could find in practice. Two years later, he has no regrets about his time with the Hurricanes.

"Just in my short time here, I've probably blocked seven first-rounders," said Winston, who in practice has gone up against defensive linemen Jerome McDougle, William Joseph and Vince Wilfork, linebackers Jonathan Vilma and D.J. Williams, and safety Sean Taylor during his time at tackle and tight end.

Winston technically was one number too high on his count, because he factored UM senior Antrel Rolle into that group. Rolle, a projected first-rounder in the 2005 draft, often runs into Winston while blitzing in practice from his safety or cornerback position.

"Once people realize how much talent we have here, they see how much hard work we put in going against that every day," Winston said. "When you get embarrassed by the defense, it makes you work that much harder to be on that level."

Now all that's left for Winston to decide is when he'll be taking his skills to the NFL, whether he'll return for his senior season in 2005 or enter the draft (as a projected first-round selection) in the spring.

Based on his past choices, whatever decision Winston makes more than likely will be the right one.

— Omar Kelly, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Johnson Regains Dominant Form

TALLAHASSEE — Five years ago, Travis Johnson showed up on Florida State's campus seemingly destined for stardom. He was a dominant high school defensive end from California with brass who would take his rightful place among the program's all-time great rush ends.

In the first of many blows at FSU, however, Johnson — a consensus prep All-American who chose the Seminoles over Michigan — was moved inside to defensive tackle. He later dealt with a variety of ankle and shoulder injuries, requiring surgery, but nothing compared to the trauma that came in the spring of 2003.

That's when a female acquaintance accused him of rape, leading to his arrest. Johnson faced the possibility of 15 years in prison. Though he was acquitted by an all-female jury last August, he simply wasn't the same player or person in the

After piling up eight tackles for loss as a freshman and 13.5 as a sophomore — a half-dozen more than all-time Florida State TFL leader Darnell Dockett — Johnson managed just three stops behind the line last season. Off the field, friends, teammates and family members wondered where the free-spirited young man they once knew had gone.

With Johnson's career clock winding down, many wondered if the gifted 300-pounder would be able to fulfill his potential before his eligibility clock wound down.

"For some guys," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said, "it takes that to happen."

Upon returning from a summer in California, where he worked out with NFL veterans Willie McGinest and Roman Phifer, Johnson was in the best shape of his life and bent on playing the best football of his career.

"We've got a whole brand-new person who's trying to go down as one of the top defensive linemen to ever play here," Johnson said. "I want to prove that I am ëThe Don' of defensive tackles in the country."

Cue the Godfather soundtrack. The Don has arrived.

Through three games in 2004, Johnson led the Seminoles in tackles for loss with seven — that was on pace to break Dockett's single-season mark of 22 — and was second on the team with 15 stops overall. His emergence from the shadow of the since-departed Dockett was one of the reasons FSU ranked fourth nationally in total defense and remained confident it could stay in the national title race despite a season-opening loss at Miami.

"I never had any doubts he could come back like this," FSU defensive line coach Odell Haggins said. "If he put the work into it, I knew he would have a good season."

Teaming with junior Brodrick Bunkley, Johnson has provided the Seminoles with the interior push that's essential to making the whole defensive package work in Tallahassee. FSU allowed a league-low 56.7 yards per game on the ground in the early going, often forcing opponents to pass. That enabled Andrews to cut loose his talented linebackers in blitz schemes that helped yield 12 sacks through three games.

Better pressure usually results in better pass coverage and more turnover-forcing opportunities. That, too, was an FSU plus in the early going, as the Seminoles led the league with a plus-1.33 turnovers per game average.

Not surprisingly, Johnson said he is having a blast, despite a tender lower back that forced him to the sidelines twice in September. Meanwhile, NFL scouts again are talking about him as a first-day (top three rounds) draft choice next spring.

"I don't want to jinx myself, but it's starting to feel like high school again," Johnson said. "It's starting to feel like my sophomore year here, when I was making a lot of plays — tackles for loss — in the backfield and just having fun. It's my time to shine."

Patience Helped Weeks, Wahoos

CHARLOTTESVILLE — A photo has been making the rounds this fall, mostly among Virginia rivals, in which Marquis Weeks is shown at the end of a 100-yard kickoff return against North Carolina, a feat he compared to "running from the cops."

If there is a Virginia player one wouldn't expect to see running from the cops, it might be Weeks, long regarded as a talented player but only now seeing regular playing time as a fifth-year senior.

Weeks, a tailback for most of his first four seasons at Virginia, asked to move to defense before spring practice this year because he wasn't optimistic about his chance for significant playing time in the offensive backfield. Sure enough, in the Cavaliers' first five games this fall, he has been a starter at safety. A 5-10, 214-pounder, Weeks also has been a demon on special teams, as both a return specialist and a cover man on UVa kickoffs.

"He's not just a guy who runs downfield and takes up space," said Virginia coach Al Groh, after a 44-14 season-opening victory over Temple. "Of the nine times we kicked off, three were touchbacks. On four of the six that were returned, he was in on the tackle. That's real work for somebody who also played 71 plays on defense."

That was a month's work for Weeks when he was playing on offense, although he did manage 129 yards on 19 carries in a 14-9 victory over N.C. State in 2002. It's still possible to find people who think Weeks was as good or better than UVa's other tailbacks, but he played behind Wali Lundy and Alvin Pearman for two years, and this year the Cavaliers also needed to find time for 2003 redshirt Michael Johnson.

Even though Groh agreed to the move to safety this spring, Weeks, a one-time prep All-American tailback from Pennsylvania, considered a transfer. During the offseason, he even took the time to line up some possible Division I-AA destinations. That would have given him instant eligibility and a chance to carry the ball for Hofstra, James Madison or one of the many other prominent I-AA programs that welcome transfers from I-A schools.

"I really took a good look at it," Weeks said. "I was getting close to my fifth year, and I really, really wanted to play tailback. It was like 50-50, but it wasn't like I wasn't seeing the field at all. I was playing sporadically, and on special teams I was playing and having fun doing that. I still believe I have a purpose for being here. I didn't want to leave. I'd been with a lot of these guys for four years, and they were like family. I didn't want to leave my family."

Weeks admits he's still a running back at heart, but the move to defense might improve his chances of playing in the NFL. There are more openings for defensive backs in the pros, especially players with special-teams experience, and he has shown he can return kicks. Through four games, Weeks averaged 34 yards per return. A graduate student this fall, he plans to be an elementary school teacher if pro football doesn't work out.

"The main goal right now is to try to make the NFL," Weeks said. "I hope to increase my chances of doing that by having a good year."

Weeks' touchdown against the Tar Heels, which followed a Carolina score that had cut a 21-3 deficit to 21-10, was his second in two years against UNC. His 100-yard return against the Heels in 2002 sparked a Virginia comeback from a 21-0 halftime deficit, and a 37-21 UVa victory that day can be viewed as a turning point for both programs.

Scott: From Walk-On To Starter

COLLEGE PARK — Henry Scott has a hard time describing the thoughts that ran through his head, the emotions that filled his body, as he recovered a fumble in the end zone earlier this season against Temple.

Of course, the senior nose tackle was excited about scoring his first career touchdown, but the feelings ran far deeper than that. Laying on the turf, engulfed by teammates while a sellout crowd at Byrd Stadium went crazy, Scott found himself thinking about all the hardships he endured in order to experience that moment.

"When I covered that ball and all of my teammates jumped on me, it was like this dream keeps getting better and better," Scott said. "The first thing I thought was, ëI'm back.' I got cut from this team when Vandy was coaching, and now I'm scoring touchdowns."

Indeed, Scott was cut during walk-on tryouts conducted by former Maryland coach Ron Vanderlinden in 2000. Scott had gone unrecruited out of nearby Kenwood High, an undersized defensive end whose 10 sacks as a senior earned only second-team All-Baltimore County honors. Realizing the coaching staff had not noticed him during tryouts, Scott tried to ingratiate himself to Vanderlinden in order to gain a spot on the team.

"I tried to diplomat my way in," Scott said. "I talked to Coach Vandy every chance I got, hoping he would remember me."

Scott was determined to play college football, so he tried out for the team again after Ralph Friedgen took over the Terps in 2001. The new staff saw something in Scott and used him as a fullback on the scout team that season.

It's been a slow but steady progression for Scott ever since. He was moved to the defensive line as a sophomore and made his first career appearance against North Carolina that year. He made a move up the depth chart in 2003 as a junior, playing in nine games and recording 14 tackles.

Through it all, even Scott never imagined he would wind up starting for the Terrapins. But when defensive line coach Dave Sollazzo was caught short at tackle this spring, after the graduation of C.J. Feldheim and the early departure to the NFL of Randy Starks, he plugged in Scott and was impressed by the results.

"Henry isn't the most talented guy in the world," Sollazzo said, "but he plays low and hard and with great effort."

It hasn't been easy for Scott, who has endured some tough times while trying to make his college football dream come true. Scott's younger brother recently was sentenced to 30 years in prison for attempted murder. He is incarcerated at the state penitentiary in Hagerstown and eagerly awaits letters and phone calls from Henry.

"It's been tough on the whole family," Scott said. "My heart aches for my little brother."

Scott also has been forced to pay his own way to Maryland, which required working two jobs this summer. An economics major, he put his mind to work with an investment firm near campus and put his body to work as a bouncer at R.J. Bentley's, a popular College Park nightspot. Meanwhile, as Scott prepared for another year without a scholarship, he and his girlfriend Latoya Johnson welcomed the arrival of a child.

"I seriously thought about not playing football this season. I've got a baby girl to feed now, and I need to make some money," Scott said. "But something dragged me back to the (football) complex every day. I just couldn't face all the people back home who have been rooting for me to make it with this team."

Rob Armstrong was supposed to start at nose tackle for Maryland this season, but poor conditioning, injury woes and subpar performance cost him the job. Justin Duffie started the opener versus Northern Illinois, but he once again has been debilitated by the affects of Crohn's Disease. Duffie left the team in September.

That left Scott, who stepped up strong while starting the Terps' last three games. He was solid inside against West Virginia, then bumped outside to end to replace injured starter Kevin Eli against Duke. Scott has been credited with four tackles for loss (totaling -22 yards) and also has three fumble recoveries.

Scott began to realize how far he'd come while sitting in the interview room following the Temple game. He'd never been asked to meet with the media before, and he was overwhelmed with emotion while surrounded by tape recorders and cameras.

"I can't believe it. None of this is supposed to happen," Scott said. "I'm just a kid from the streets of Baltimore who is just happy to be on the team."

Yet in the same breath, Scott said he's earned the rewards he is enjoying this season.

"It's been a long, hard road," he said. "I came into this program with something to prove and have worked my tail off every day in practice for the past four years."

Lawson Finds Place With Pack

RALEIGH — As Manny Lawson watched Lamont Reid pull away in their one-on-one footrace, he heard a ghost whisper his name. So he pulled up in the middle of the sprint and said, "What? What?"

It was an easy way to get out of a race the N.C. State defensive end knew he was going to lose against Reid, a speedy cornerback who won the North Carolina Class 2A title in the 100 meters as a senior at Central Cabarrus High School.

"He said that I was a chump," Lawson recalled.

OK, so maybe Lawson isn't the fastest guy on the Wolfpack football team. But he is one of them, with his sub-4.5 time in the 40-yard dash.

More importantly, he is learning how to use that speed to do more than just block kicks, which was his primary contribution to the Pack in his first two seasons. As a freshman, Lawson led the nation with three blocked punts. Overall, he has five blocked punts to his credit, plus a touchdown on a blocked punt recovery.

This season, however, Lawson has become a demon at defensive end, teaming with sophomore Mario Williams to give the Wolfpack one of the speediest and deadliest sets of ends in college football.

When Lawson arrived in the fall of 2002 from Eastern Wayne High in Goldsboro, N.C., Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato knew he had something special, even though Lawson hardly caused a recruiting battle during his senior year. (State beat out Duke, East Carolina and UNC.) That may have had something to do with the fact that Lawson broke his ankle during his sophomore track season and was limited as a junior in football. But when the sleek, long-armed player arrived in Raleigh, Amato knew he had someone who was as physically gifted as anyone he had ever coached.

"He is taller, heavier, stronger and faster than what (former Florida State All-American and 2001 NFL rookie of the year) Peter Boulware was as a freshman," Amato said back then.

Lawson proved the unique nature of his athletic skills when he finished third in the North Carolina Class 3A track meet — literally as a one-man team. He won the state title in the long jump, the 110-meter high hurdles and the 200-yard dash. He finished a disappointing third in his best event, the triple jump, and did not get to compete in another event he could have won, the 100-meter dash, because he was limited by rule to only four events. When the day was over, Lawson had scored all 36 of his school's points, which was good enough for third in the team standings.

For years, Joe Mitchell, Lawson's high school coach in football and track and field, has said that Lawson was one of the best players he's ever coached. That includes NFL players Oscar Sturgis and James Hamilton, from when Mitchell was an assistant coach at powerhouse Richmond Senior High in Rockingham, N.C.

The problem was that Amato initially had no idea where to play Lawson. The coach considered putting him at wide receiver or tight end but originally settled on linebacker, a position Lawson had never played before. Amato kept him there for two seasons, then switched him to defensive end before last year's Tangerine Bowl.

Now, Lawson is practically unstoppable, as Virginia Tech found out in September. One organization named Lawson the national player of the week for his three-sack effort against the Hokies. After three games, he led the nation with five sacks and was fourth in tackles for loss with 7.5.

"The way I see it, you can move me anywhere, as long as I am able to play and capable of helping the team out," Lawson said. "When I was told I would move to the front, I wasn't that surprised, because my sophomore year and freshman year I saw myself being down in a three-point stance more and more and more. I was told that I came off the ball real well, and that they would use me as a rush end at times. Now that is my position, and I love it."

Tech's Davis Recovers, Converts

BLACKSBURG — Two years ago, Jim Davis was as hard-headed and stubborn as any football player on Virginia Tech's roster. In his mind, playing defensive end was his birthright, and nobody was going to budge him from that spot.

No coach, no teammate, nobody.

It's amazing what a little solitary confinement can do for one's perspective. Davis has a new appreciation for his role with the Hokies these days. That's because a torn pectoral muscle threatened to end his career.

Davis, a 6-3, 265-pound senior this fall, fought the injury in 2003 for as long as he could, but in the end he was left with no choice. He had surgery, redshirted last season and spent the fall rehabilitating.

During his time away from the game, Davis wondered if he'd ever get back to the level of success he enjoyed in his first three seasons in Blacksburg. From 2000-02, he had 103 tackles and 13.5 sacks as a defensive end.

It was the hardest four months of his life, and the most isolated he'd ever felt. From afternoons spent alone in the training room or the weight room while his teammates practiced, to staying behind at his apartment when Tech went on road trips, Davis was on his own.

"You don't have your friends to support you on the team and stuff like that," said Davis, a native of Highland Springs, Va. "It was a lot of rehab, a lot of alone time, a lot of soul-searching. It was good and bad for me, but everything happens for a reason."

By January, Davis was getting antsy. His strength had returned. His eyes were bloodshot from watching hours of film. His attitude toward the game had changed.

When Charley Wiles, Tech's defensive line coach, and Bud Foster, Tech's defensive coordinator, approached Davis about experimenting with the defensive tackle position in spring practice, Davis didn't balk. He was ready to punt if they asked him to do so.

Davis knew the interior line wasn't his natural position. He's a bit undersized to scrap with the biggest boys on the offensive line. But his speed and ability to get penetration were attractive elements of his game, and Tech's coaches hoped he could transfer those skills to the middle of the line.

"I struggled at first," Davis said. "I was trying to find my niche. I was trying to find my way through the defense and trying to be a leader. There were so many things running through my head."

He didn't take long to make his presence felt. In preseason practices, the coaching staff had a dilemma. Where were they going to start Davis? He had progressed so quickly that he was ready to start anywhere on the line.

Davis started Tech's first four games at defensive tackle this season, but he played a few downs at end, too. He's also lining up on Tech's kick block unit, and he recorded a blocked field goal in the Hokies' win against Western Michigan.

The experiment was a success. Davis has demonstrated the versatility to play inside or outside, and he has shown no lingering effects from the torn muscle. He's back.

"It says something about him that he has the capabilities to do that," Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "He's a player. I mean, he makes a difference in there. You feel him on the pass rush."

Johnson Surpassing Huge Hype

ATLANTA — Success was not just expected of Calvin Johnson, it was demanded.

From the time Johnson, a 6-4, 225-pound true freshman, chose Georgia Tech over rival Georgia as his college destination, the Yellow Jackets penciled him in as a starter at wide receiver. Their fans drooled at the prospect of Johnson and quarterback Reggie Ball, the ACC's rookie of the year in 2003, doing their best Rice and Montana routine for the next few years.

Johnson, as shy and quiet as Ball is outgoing and talkative, has not disappointed anyone early in his rookie season.

"There has been a lot of hype that surrounded Calvin," Tech coach Chan Gailey said, "and he certainly has lived up to it."

A consensus prep All-American who turned 19 on Sept. 25, Johnson has been even better than advertised. He humbly admitted that his goal at the beginning of preseason practice was to earn some playing time. He was a starter less than a week into drills.

In just his second game this fall, Johnson became a part of Georgia Tech lore. He hauled in eight passes for 127 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 11 seconds left, in the Yellow Jackets' thrilling upset at Clemson.

"It's been pretty smooth so far," said Johnson, in his typically understated way.

Johnson, who has a good chance of joining Ball and four other Tech players as an ACC rookie of the year, already is a centerpiece of the Tech offense. When the Jackets need a play, they look mainly to Ball, tailback P.J. Daniels and Johnson.

Ball, who knows what it's like to be a freshman hot shot, has helped to ease Johnson's transition to the college game. The sophomore quarterback, who was carried off the field after leading Tech to an upset of Auburn in his second game last season, quickly has become an unofficial mentor to his star receiver.

"(Johnson) respects when I tell him what to do, what to expect, and what not to do," Ball said. "I think it means a lot to him coming from me."

Already, though, the respect flows in both directions for Johnson, who quickly has earned the support and admiration of his teammates. In summer workouts, he bested all comers in the team's vertical jump and broad jump competitions. Soon, it wasn't just the fans who were drooling over his potential. Teammates were openly gushing, too.

"It's great to see someone whose work ethic matches his talent when his talent is so high," senior center Andy Tidwell-Neal said. "He works just as hard as the hardest-working guy on the team."

Trying to get Johnson to speak about himself is as difficult as trying to cover him.

"I have high expectations for myself," said Johnson, who admitted that he has little time for extracurricular activities because of his football and academic responsibilities.

Nevertheless, Johnson still finds time for occasional video games with Ball. The pair is evenly matched, typically splitting games. While Ball lets the freshman know about his victories, Johnson takes it all in stride, avoiding any taunting of his quarterback.

"(Johnson) is not a rah-rah type. He's quiet, very intense, a great competitor, but an amazing talent," Gailey said. "He has the potential to be an outstanding player before it's over with."

Miami coach Larry Coker already has compared Johnson to former Pittsburgh star Larry Fitzgerald, a Heisman candidate the Hurricanes faced in recent years while a member of the Big East. Others have dropped the names of Randy Moss and Terrell Owens when discussing Johnson. Johnson himself prefers another receiver.

"I really don't have one (favorite receiver)," Johnson said. "Maybe myself."

Wake Finds King Of Consistency

WINSTON-SALEM — Eric King might make playing football look easy, but it's never been as easy as it looks for him.

King, a Wake Forest cornerback, missed his junior season in high school because of an injured shoulder. Then, after a strong senior campaign, he headed for prep school, where he fine-tuned his football skills and upgraded his academic credentials.

Even during his four and a half years with the Demon Deacons, King has seen his share of ups and downs. As a corner who's often asked to handle the opponent's top receiver with one-on-one coverage, he always knows he's one misstep away from disaster, and he's seen plenty of it first-hand. In one 2002 game, Virginia bombed away to its big receivers against the Deacons, and the shorter (5-10, 185) King and his fellow defensive backs were embarrassed by the Cavaliers.

Despite his various setbacks and rough moments, King gradually has grown from an unheralded prep signee into one of the ACC's top defensive backs. Opponents rarely challenge him anymore, and this fall he's looking for a second straight first-team All-ACC honor. As a senior, King is the focal point of a vastly improved Wake Forest defense.

"If you can get a cover corner that is maybe not all the time a real flashy guy but just gets the job done, you know you can depend on him," Wake coach Jim Grobe said. "That gives you a chance to focus on other areas of your defense. You can kind of check out where your other weaknesses are and know he's pretty much going to get the job done."

In high school, King didn't make many recruiting lists after missing his junior season. But as a senior at McDonogh High in Owings Mills, Md., he ran for more than 1,000 yards as a tailback, played defense and also excelled in track. He even grabbed the spotlight with a 65-yard interception return in a Maryland-Virginia all-star game.

After committing to former Wake Forest coach Jim Caldwell (over James Madison and Temple) as part of the Deacons' 2000 recruiting class, King attended The Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., that fall. (Oddly, that fact has never appeared in a Wake media guide.) King led the Hill team in rushing, excelled at cornerback and generally was regarded as the best athlete in a private-school league. He arrived in Winston-Salem in time for Grobe's first spring practice (2001) but didn't get much attention from the media at the time.

King came off the bench for his first four games in 2001, then moved into the starting lineup. He's been there ever since. His 37 straight starts through early October led the Deacons and ranked him among the most experienced players in the conference.

"He's a guy who plays within the confines of the defense," Grobe said. "He's not a riverboat-gambler guy. He's not going to do his own thing and hurt the team concept."

King's solid influence also extends to being an off-the-field leader for the Demon Deacons, as he's always where he should be when he should be. He had the same reputation in high school and prep school.

"He's one of those guys who just gets the most out of what he's got," Grobe said. "He's not the biggest guy around, and he's got good athletic ability, but the guy just likes to play. You like seeing guys who you know love the game. There's no question that when Eric King comes to practice, comes to meetings — everything that pertains to football — the guy likes it."

King makes no secret of the fact that he likes being the old man a lot more than he did being the green rookie.

"One thing we can always say is, ëIf we knew what we know now back then, how much better a player we would be,'" King said. "Experience means a whole lot. I feel like every time I'm out there on the field, there's certain things that I normally see and certain things that I normally get. I know every route. I know the combinations that are going to come with every route. If players aren't too experienced, I can tell they aren't too experienced. It's definitely to my advantage, just by knowing the defense and being here so long."

Stuckey Thriving After Switch

CLEMSON — Chansi Stuckey still had his heart set on playing quarterback before Clemson's spring practice in 2003.

Clemson's coaches had asked Stuckey if he wanted to give receiver a try. He declined, clinging to the hope that he could make an impact behind center. The coaches didn't persist, preferring for Stuckey to come to the decision on his own.

Serving as Charlie Whitehurst's backup in 2003, Stuckey mainly watched as Whitehurst blossomed into a star. Sure enough, it didn't take long for the understudy to understand that receiver might be the best place for him after all. Stuckey made the move last spring and since has become a valuable, versatile threat for the Tigers.

"I didn't realize how fun playing receiver could be," said Stuckey, who put up eye-popping numbers as a quarterback at Northside High in Warner Robins, Ga.

After making the switch, the 6-0, 180-pound redshirt sophomore quickly made it apparent that he was on the fast track. His juke-and-jive moves often drew hoots and hollers from teammates during scrimmages. Receivers coach Dabo Swinney raved about his new addition, refusing to place a limit on his potential.

"He is a special football player," Swinney said. "He's got ëit.' He's like Charlie Whitehurst; he's got ëit.' A lot of times people have a hard time defining what that is, but he's got it. He's got a lot of heart and a great work ethic. If he continues to work like he works with the skill level he has, the sky is the limit with that guy. And he's still learning the intricacies of the position."

Stuckey said the gushing reviews are flattering.

"You really haven't done anything, but people expect you to do this and do that," Stuckey said. "It puts a lot on your shoulders, but I like the competition. I think it's pretty good."

Stuckey was more than pretty good in Clemson's season-opening 37-30 win over Wake Forest. He caught eight passes for 112 yards, rushed four times for 10 yards, blocked a punt for a safety and provided a crushing block on Justin Miller's 69-yard punt return for a touchdown. There was no truth to the rumor that he also helped direct postgame traffic.

After the Wake game, Clemson's challenge of replacing receiver Derrick Hamilton seemed settled. Stuckey proved he was capable of being every bit as good after the catch as Hamilton, who left for the NFL after his junior season.

"We kind of thought he would be an exciting player," Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said. "There were some question marks: Could he replace Derrick? It looks like Derrick made the best decision."

Replacing Hamilton didn't seem as much of a slam-dunk after the Wake game, when Clemson lost to Georgia Tech, Texas A&M and Florida State to fall to 1-3, the Tigers' worst start since 1998. Opponents seemed to pay more attention to Stuckey after his dazzling debut, and his statistics took a dip.

Stuckey said playing receiver entails more responsibility than he envisioned.

"It's a lot more technique and recognizing coverages and things," he said. "It's not just a freelance position that you can do what you want to. Everything is based on timing with the quarterback. You could be one step off and it's an interception. So it's important to be disciplined in your route running and to know what's going on."

Swinney said there's more to Stuckey than has been shown. Much more.

"He's got higher expectations than anyone," Swinney said. "He's a special player who's going to be a special receiver. Maybe that puts a little bit of pressure on him, but he thrives on that. Some guys maybe I couldn't do that with, but Chansi loves it."

— Larry Williams, Charleston (S.C.) Post & Courier

Brown Appreciates Big Picture

CHAPEL HILL — There's more to life than just football for Jason Brown.

North Carolina's senior center and a promising NFL prospect, Brown is a man on a mission. Humbled by his experiences and driven to help others, he wants to use football as an avenue to improve the lives of his family members and to positively impact young people.

Brown saw many kids develop into directionless young adults while growing up in Henderson, N.C. His goal is to provide them with the tools they need to pursue a quality education they otherwise might not have.

"(Education) is so important because it gives you options," Brown said. "Education is key because it opens doors."

Brown's athletic gifts already have opened many doors for him, and starting next year they could provide him with a comfortable living. But even without his status as a football star, he believes opportunities would exist because of the emphasis his parents always put on education. He did homework after school instead of watching television. He studied enough to excel, not just enough to get by. Bs and Cs might be good enough for some kids, but not for the Browns.

Unfortunately, many students lack the direction to succeed academically. Thanks often to circumstances beyond their control, the TV becomes a babysitter, and their academic demands, if any, are slight. Brown wants to give such kids an alternative, so they can break that seemingly hopeless cycle or avoid starting one.

"I want to start a non-profit organization for youths," Brown said. "I want to start an after-school program, even for kids not involved in sports. Too many kids have no direction or nothing to do. I want to provide that."

Brown's vision is steep. He wants to tackle this opportunity with the same gusto he uses to attack opposing defenders. Obstacles such as raising funds or dealing with a young person's objecting parent might as well be a Blue Devil or a Terrapin in a four-point stance.

Things could be different for Brown, an accomplished player (32 career starts and counting) who owns a slew of Carolina weight-lifting records and has been on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy (awarded to the nation's top center) for the past two years.

He could allow UNC's recent struggles (22 losses in 29 games) to overwhelm him, but he accepts the role of team player and leader and always plays hard. After most games, he's the most eloquent, honest, stand-up guy in the Carolina locker room. He could be bitter about his brother, a member of the U.S. Army who died in Iraq last September.

But Brown refuses to let anything keep him down. His family prefers not to speak about Lunsford Brown's tragic passing at the age of 27, but Jason did offer that his brother was a source of inspiration for him long before he died.

"It was last training camp (2003), and it was very hot," Brown said. "My mother came down and we went with our family, and I was moaning and complaining. She said my sacrifices don't (compare) to what ëyour brother is going through.'"

Brown hasn't complained much since, although his opponents have. He recently graded out at 98 percent against Louisville. UNC coach John Bunting called the game the "best (Brown) has played." Brown has graded out well throughout his career, but he recognizes that there's always room for improvement.

"I'm a perfectionist, especially on the field," Brown said. "When I make the smallest errors in technique, I kind of give a self-punishment type of thing."

Aggressive and ferocious as a competitor on the field, Brown's desire to help off it is what guides him. Some time down the road, he intends on having his approach rub off on youngsters in need.

— Andrew Jones, Wilmington (N.C.) Star-News

Talley Making Quiet Statements

DURHAM — There are feel-good stories of under-recruited players making it, and then there's John Talley.

While in high school, the Duke sophomore didn't have to worry about recruiters calling. Not because he wasn't good enough, but because his parents' house in rural South Carolina didn't have a telephone.

Duke found Talley, a quiet and polite wisp of a football player, in the town of Duncan with old-fashioned legwork and persistent recruiting. The Blue Devils and Vanderbilt were the only two Division I-A programs to offer a scholarship to Talley, who was not ranked among the top 25 prospects in the Palmetto State as a prep senior.

Talley chose Duke, of course, and here's the fun part: Four weeks into the 2004 season, he led the ACC in interceptions, although he may be the last person to tell you about it. Getting Talley, who uses the word sir with military-like precision, to open up about his success may be harder than getting a pass by him.

"I'm not the type of person to brag about anything," Talley said. "Besides, when your team's not winning, there isn't anything to brag about."

Even Duke coach Ted Roof, who edits his own words judiciously, describes Talley as extremely quiet.

"If you can get two words out of him," Roof said, "then you've got two more than I've ever got from him."

In Duke's 1-4 start, Talley offered a glimmer of hope. Since a disappointing outing in the season opener at Navy, he has blossomed into a dangerous cover corner.

At 5-11 and a generously estimated 180 pounds, Talley's thinness is what stands out most. He does not possess overwhelming speed or size but has "it," as Roof likes to say.

"He's a good player," Roof said. "He knows the game and has a real feel for it."

Against Navy, Talley was beaten at the end of the first half for a 58-yard touchdown that turned the game in the Midshipmen's favor.

"I had a bad game against Navy," Talley said. "I was playing not to make mistakes. Since then, I haven't given up as much room, and I've played more aggressive."

The young corner led the league with three interceptions in the first four games. He returned his first pick 62 yards against Connecticut for a touchdown. He added another interception the next week, in the second half of Duke's loss at Virginia Tech.

Talley got his third pick in the first half against Maryland. He jumped a quick slant pattern from Terps quarterback Joel Statham and tipped the pass to himself. Talley gathered it in one swoop and raced 85 yards for his second touchdown of the season. Even as a defender, his two touchdowns led Duke in scoring after four games.

The interceptions are nothing new for Talley. He worked his way into Duke's secondary rotation as a true freshman in 2003. He made two picks in the final three games of the season, giving him five in a span of six games. As a senior at Byrnes High, he also had three interceptions and returned two for touchdowns.

"Once you get an interception, the goal is to score," Talley said. "I think of it as taking advantage of a chance that you get."


Rank/School Overall (ACC) Next On Schedule Happy Tale
1. Miami 4-0 (2-0) Open, Louisville (10/14), at NCSU (10/23), at UNC (10/30), Clemson (11/6), at Virginia (11/13) Junior OT Eric Winston
2. Florida State 3-1 (2-1) at Syracuse (10/9), UVa (10/16), at Wake (10/23), at Maryland (10/30), Duke (11/6), at NCSU (11/11) Senior DT Travis Johnson
3. Virginia 4-0 (1-0) Clemson (10/7), at FSU (10/16), at Duke (10/23), Open, Maryland (11/6), Miami (11/13) Senior S Marquis Weeks
4. Maryland 3-1 (1-0) Open, Georgia Tech (10/9), NCSU (10/16), at Clemson (10/23), FSU (10/30), at Virginia (11/6), Open Senior DT Henry Scott
5. N.C. State 3-1 (2-0) at UNC (10/9), at Maryland (10/16), Miami (10/23), at Clemson (10/30), Georgia Tech (11/6), FSU (11/13) Junior DE Manny Lawson
6. Virginia Tech 3-2 (1-1) at Wake (10/9), Florida A&M (10/16), Open, at Georgia Tech (10/28), at UNC (11/6), Open Senior DT Jim Davis
7. Wake Forest 3-2 (0-2) Virginia Tech (10/9), Open, FSU (10/23), Duke (10/30), Open, UNC (11/13) Senior CB Eric King
8. Georgia Tech 2-2 (1-2) at Maryland (10/9), Duke (10/16), Open, Virginia Tech (10/28), at NCSU (11/6), UConn (11/13) Freshman WR Calvin Johnson
9. Clemson 1-3 (1-2) at Virginia (10/7), Utah State (10/16), Maryland (10/23), NCSU (10/30), at Miami (11/6), at Duke (11/13) Sophomore WR Chansi Stuckey
10. North Carolina 2-3 (1-2) NCSU (10/9), at Utah (10/16), Open, Miami (10/30), Virginia Tech (11/6), at Wake (11/13) Senior OC Jason Brown
11. Duke 1-4 (0-2) Open, at Georgia Tech (10/16), Virginia (10/23), at Wake (10/30), at FSU (11/6), Clemson (11/13) Sophomore CB John Talley
NOTE1: Power rankings are for teams, not individual players.
NOTE2: Records through Oct. 6