Gridiron greatness

National | Perseverance pays off for three college stars

Issue: "The fall(en) TV season," Sept. 18, 1999

Comeback quarterback
Florida State University quarterback Chris Weinke (wink-ee) waited nine years after his last high-school game before he made his first start for the Seminoles last season. Now he is leading the team that on Sept. 9 was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Mr. Weinke left FSU after only four practices in 1990. Lured by a $375,000 signing bonus from the Toronto Blue Jays, he spent six years playing minor league baseball but made little progress and longed to play football again. Meanwhile he invested the bonus in real estate and is financially self-sufficient as a result. Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden welcomed him back with a full scholarship, and Mr. Weinke became the starter last year. He played well until a serious neck injury forced him into surgery to remove a herniated disk and a bone chip that pressed on a nerve. He also had two vertebrae fused, and doctors had to operate again when they discovered spinal fluid was leaking, causing painful headaches. Recovery took almost a year. Mr. Weinke was sacked three times and took several more hits in FSU's 41-7 opening victory against Louisiana Tech, but each time he rose from the turf. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 242 yards and two touchdowns. A new minister of defense?
Right behind Florida State in the early September rankings was Penn State, which is bulwarked by 6' 5", 270-pound defensive end Courtney Brown. Many scouts project the senior as a top 5 pick in next year's NFL draft. He is "the best pass rusher I've seen in 10 years," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Soft-spoken and workmanlike, Mr. Brown told WORLD that he learned his ethics from his father, who works for a felt company in rural South Carolina. "My dad is a hard worker, and he taught me that you've got to work for everything you get," Mr. Brown said. Following that example, he earned a 4.0 grade-point average in high school and is a dean's list student at college. He received all-state honors in high-school basketball and weightlifting, in addition to being a USA Today All-America selection in football. Mr. Brown told WORLD that his parents taught him to "always believe in God," but he didn't get serious about his relationship with Christ until midway through high school. He sought and found a Bible study immediately after arriving at Penn State, and said that helped him to develop: "I believe in Jesus and that God is the creator of the universe. I'm still learning, and have a lot to learn." Long-time Penn State head coach Joe Paterno says Mr. Brown is the best defensive end he's ever had, but the Outland Trophy candidate keeps things in perspective. "I don't want to get too far ahead of myself," he says. "It would be great if I could play at the next level, but I want to take care of what's happening now." He has been learning about computer graphics and is on track to graduate next spring. Give him 14 inches, he'll give you 7.3 yards
Although his team lost its opener, University of Arizona running back Trung Canidate's pun-likely last name makes him a favorite of headline writers. His explosive speed suggests that headlines will come: Last year Mr. Canidate topped the NCAA with a 7.3 yard average per carry, and his 15 career touchdown runs have averaged 52 yards. "He's like a missile out of a rocket," said Wildcats quarterback Ortege Jenkins. Mr. Canidate, injured as a senior in high school, arrived at Arizona without a position. He redshirted in 1995, and coaches tried him at wide receiver and defensive back the following year. While he performed well at camp, he longed to play tailback. "I did everything but get on my knees and beg," he said. He was low on the depth chart, but in 1997 got his opportunity after those ahead of him either graduated or switched positions. Named after a character in Green Eyes, a 1976 Vietnam-themed TV movie, Mr. Canidate learned from his mother about priorities and persistence. He was not allowed to participate in sports unless his studies and chores were completed first, and as a result made the honor roll all four years in high school. He majors in political science at Arizona. His 2,222 career rushing yards give Wildcat fans hopes for the Heisman Trophy this year, but Mr. Canidate focuses on his teammates. "I give credit to the offensive line," he said. "All I ask them for is 14 inches of daylight, and they get the job done."

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