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September 20, 2006
Go ahead, make the jokes. Garrett Wolfe has heard them all.
Tell him he's on the short list for a major award and start the yuks. Now, that's comedy.
When you're a small man ? 5 feet 7, 177-pounds ? in the big man's game of college football taunts are as common as the chalked lines that measure off the field.
At least, they were. Nobody laughs much now. Actually, they haven't in a while.
Now a group of men well over 6-feet tall at Northern Illinois University look up to their teammate. Garrett Wolfe is the big man on campus.
"He's a little guy, but if you watch him on the field he amazes a lot of people," Huskies quarterback Phil Horvath said. "The things he's done for this program ? every week you see something else and you say, 'Wow, what an amazing back.' Every week you see something on film that gets you thinking how special we are to have him."
Wolfe has beaten homesickness, beaten the odds and hopes to beat a path to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremonies.
But he remains unsatisfied because the Huskies (1-2) haven't beaten enough opponents.
"As hard as it may be to believe, there is no personal satisfaction," Wolfe said. "The only personal satisfaction I get is being a winner. I want people to associate me with winning games. There are statistical giants with losing teams, but I don't want my name to bear that."
Wolfe, who surprises some opponents by running effectively between the tackles despite his size, has won almost every personal fight he's had since arriving in DeKalb in 2002.
He readily admits he did not pay attention to his grades in high school, so any college coach that offered a scholarship was taking a risk. And then he was so homesick he actually tried to go home to the old neighborhood in Chicago where he grew up.
"I didn't really want to be here," he recalled. "I was unbelievably homesick, beyond my wildest imagination. I had two tough parents that weren't going to let me come home."
Patricia and Gary Wolfe made Garrett stay and he eventually made the most of his opportunity. He realized he didn't want to return to the neighborhood as a failure and began working hard toward his degree in Communications. He is on schedule to graduate in May.
He's using the skills he has acquired in his major to communicate his desire to win to teammates. Wolfe has taken over the role of vocal leader, and warns that he's trying to make a bowl game - not trying to make friends.
"He definitely has become more vocal," Horvath said. "In the past he did it on the field and didn't say too much. We pride ourselves on senior leadership, and I know Garrett has taken it on his shoulders to get everyone right and get everyone on the same page."
But Wolfe doesn't have a Napoleon complex. That is, unless the reference is to Napoleon Kaufman or Napoleon McCallum ? Heisman Trophy contenders from years past.
So far this season Wolfe has rushed for 630 yards, which is more yardage than 115 teams in Division I have managed. His staggering totals aren't the byproduct of playing marginal competition, either.
He had 171 yards rushing and 285 yards of total offense in the season-opener against No.1-ranked Ohio State, a performance which should make him a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate.
"I definitely think he should be a Heisman Trophy contender," Horvath said. "Look at his rushing yards and his all-purpose yards. Look what he did against the No. 1 team in the country. He should be getting more credit than he's getting now."
Of course, Wolfe's biggest problem is his small school. Players from mid-majors don't get serious consideration for college football's greatest individual award.
TCU's LaDainian Tomlinson finished fourth in 2000 behind Florida State's Chris Weinke, Oklahoma's Josh Heupel and Purdue's Drew Brees.
In 1994 Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair finished third behind Colorado's Rashaan Salaam and Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter.
Who would be considered the premier player now?
The small minds that discriminate against small players from small schools will prevent Wolfe from having a fair shot at the Heisman, but at his current pace he should at least get an invitation to the presentation ceremony as a finalist.
"I feel like it's an honor (to be considered)," Wolfe said. "It would be great to win the award, but I'm not setting my sights on it. To have my name mentioned on the short list at the end of the season would truly be an honor."
Wolfe is proving that he belongs on the short list. And anyone who's been paying attention won't laugh.
How do you get ready for a game?
"I listen to music and just try to focus on what needs to be done."
Why is West Virginia's spread offense so successful?
"We're just spreading everybody out and putting them (defenses) on an island. It's harder to tackle one-on-one. Our coaches like our odds one-on-one."
What goals did you set for this season?
"I try not to set too many goals. I play the best I can and don't leave too many regrets on the field."
What is the only stadium named for a Heisman Trophy recipient? (Answer at the end of the column.)
One tough corner
If Southern California's Dwayne Jarrett and Vanderbilt's Earl Bennett are indeed two of the nation's best receivers (and they are), then Arkansas junior Chris Houston is staking a claim as one of the country's best cornerbacks.
Houston, a 5-foot-11, 185-pounder who bench presses 450 pounds, is making an art of jamming receivers at the line to disrupt their routes. He lined up against Jarrett most of the time and held him to five catches for 35 yards in the Hogs' season-opening loss.
Last season Jarrett caught 91 passes for 1,274 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Then, last week Houston held Bennett to four catches for 31 yards.
A year ago Bennett caught 79 passes for 876 yards and nine touchdowns.
So far this season Houston has not allowed a touchdown pass, has deflected three passes, has notched 10 tackles and frustrated two excellent receivers.
Georgia's defense very Erksome
Thirty-five years have passed since the Georgia Bulldogs have managed three consecutive shutouts, but they appear to have a good chance to repeat that feat this week.
Having blanked South Carolina and Alabama-Birmingham the last two weeks, Georgia goes for three-in-a-row on Saturday when the Bulldogs play host to Colorado.
"We're proud of those two shutouts in a row and we're fired up to try for a third," junior cornerback Paul Oliver said. "But we know we will be getting their best game since they will be wanting to come down here and win this game."
Colorado hasn't been shut out since Nov. 12, 1988 (7-0 to Nebraska), a span of 213 games - which is the sixth-longest scoring streak in the nation.
This year the Buffaloes have had one of the most inept offenses in the nation, ranking 115th in total offense and 114th in scoring offense. Their greatest threat to Georgia's streak of eight scoreless quarters might be kicker Mason Crosby, who can hit from 50 yards or more but is just 3-for-6 this year.
In '71, Georgia shut out Vanderbilt, Kentucky and South Carolina in succession on the way to an 11-1 season. That year the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator was Erk Russell, who passed away two weeks ago.
"We're trying to honor his name and play to the caliber that his teams did," linebacker Danny Verdun said. "They got the job done. We are trying to do that."
On the other end
Oklahoma's Paul Thompson became well-known nationally when he was moved from receiver to quarterback after Rhett Bomar was suspended from the team in early August.
However, he's just one of three starting quarterbacks that expected to be catching passes rather than throwing them this season.
Mississippi State's Omarr Conner moved to quarterback after the Bulldogs, who lost starter Michael Henig to a broken collarbone in a season-opening loss to South Carolina, were unable to mount much offense in the first half of last week's loss to Tulane.
Conner completed 15 of 25 passes for 241 yards against Tulane.
Newton, who caught seven passes in a loss to Georgia on Sept. 9, completed 12 of 18 attempts in last week's victory over Wofford.
Thompson, by the way, has completed 48 of 80 passes for 673 yards and five touchdowns this season.
? Matt Nader, a four-star offensive tackle who has committed to Texas, collapsed on the sideline at a high school game Friday night after suffering "lethal arrhythmia," according to doctors who came out of the bleachers and worked frantically to revive his heart. Nader recovered and had a defibrillator inserted into his chest on Monday, when he also learned he could not play football again.
? Texas was penalized 19 times in last week's win over Rice, which broke a 28-year-old school record.
? Nebraska coach Bill Callahan's game plan against USC was criticized as being too conservative, but he defended it, saying it gave the Cornhuskers a chance to win. Nebraska lost 28-10.
? Washington State left tackle Bobby Byrd and receiver Chris Jordan, both nursing sprained right knees, are out indefinitely and won't play in the Pac-10 opener against Stanford. Stanford also has injury issues with receiver Mark Bradford possibly out for the year with a foot injury and fullback Nick Frank forced to give up football last week because of a cervical spine condition.
? Southern Cal is looking for a fullback to replace starter Ryan Powdrell, who sustained a season-ending broken leg in last week's win over Nebraska. Freshman tailback Allen Bradford, who has already switched from safety, has refused to change positions again. Either freshman Stanley Havili or former walk-on Mike Brittingham will start there.
? Xavier Lee, Florida State's backup quarterback, has expressed frustration with his lack of playing time while the Seminoles offense has struggled. Lee sat alone on the bench with a towel over his head for much of the third quarter of last week's 27-20 loss to Clemson.
? N.C. State coach Chuck Amato has decided to start sophomore Daniel Evans at quarterback on Saturday against Boston College. Junior Marcus Stone, who started the first three games, has completed just 48.5 percent of his passes. Evans completed 8 of 11 passes for 97 yards as a substitute in last week's 37-17 loss to Southern Mississippi.
Iowa's stadium is named for Nile Kinnick, the 1939 Heisman winner.
Olin Buchanan is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. To send him a question or comment for his Friday Mailbag, click here.