As a freshman, Texas quarterback Colt McCoy watched from the Rose Bowl sidelines as his predecessor, Vince Young, guided Texas to a legendary comeback over USC in the 2006 Rose Bowl.
Four years later, in his final collegiate game, McCoy suffered a pinched nerve in his shoulder that put his arm to sleep and changed the complexion of a matchup of unbeatens with No. 1 Alabama.
"That's a hit I've taken over and over in my life," said McCoy. "Feels like I slept on my arm, woke up and it's just dead."
After completing his first two passes, McCoy was hit on his fifth offensive snap, a short keeper to the left, by Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus. He went down on one knee on the Texas sideline and didn't return.
"I didn't really want to hurt him," said Dareus. "It's just a part of the game."
Mark Ingram, the Alabama running back who edged McCoy for the Heisman trophy, was watching from across the field.
"I saw the hit," said Ingram. "I said, 'Ooh that kind of hurt.'
"It's really unfortunate that he didn't get to play."
In McCoy's place, Texas thrust Gilbert, the son of former NFL quarterback Gale Gilbert, who holds the distinction of playing for teams that lost five straight Super Bowls from 1991 to 1995.
"I can't imagine what it was like for him," said Texas receiver Jordan Shipley.
Injured Texas tight end Blaine Irby, the former St. Bonaventure standout, was so engaging in his conversation with Star columnist David Lassen earlier this week that Lassen wanted to pass along some of his comments that didn't fit into his Jan. 7 column:
"In case you missed that story, Irby -- who was supposed to start this year at tight end -- has been sidelined since the third game of the 2008 season, when he dislocated his right knee in a game against Rice. His rehab is complete, but damage to the peroneal nerve -- which provides movement and sensation to the lower leg -- continues to keep his right foot from functioning properly, so he's been working as a player-coach, helping instruct the Longhorns' young tight ends.
Anyway, here are some of his thoughts:
On the play when he was injured, which is posted below:
I watched it one time. I wasn't able to watch it. I really wanted to watch it, and I'd always watch it, but right when the play would start, I'd look away.
Finally when I started walking, which was about maybe three months after my injury, finally I had the nerve to watch it.
And the thing that made me mad is I dropped the ball on that play. In the middle of me watching it, I remember I'm like, 'All right, how did I drop the ball?' And then the actual injury happened, and it kind of caught me.
On the support he's received since the injury:
Texas has been so great, Coach Brown and his staff. They've been so great to me since I've been hurt. And all my players and all my friends on the team have been behind me, and my family. ... Right after my injury, I think I was just a little mama's boy. My mom was down there for about two weeks taking care of me. ...
It's amazing to see how many people are behind you during times like this. I remember getting calls from coaches -- Coach Jon Mack, Coach Therrien, Coach Pep and all of them, and all of the players at St. Bonaventure. They'd call me up every day, 'Hey, Boog, how's the knee?' It's awesome hearing from people. Even parents are sending me cards, get-well cards. That helped me a lot get through the whole process of being injured. ...
On how he ended up at Texas:
People ask me that all the time, and I tell them I don't really know. When I saw them play in the national championship (at the Rose Bowl in 2005), I was real interested in them. I sent my tape out there, and they liked it right away, and they offered me.
I honestly had no idea. I knew that they were in Austin, and that was about all I knew. So I went out to Austin, and Austin's a great city. Everyone's been so nice. I've made so many good friendships over there, and so many good relationships.
I figured I kind of wanted to get out on my own, and kind of start a new path. It's been great so far. I have no regrets at all.
(Texas tight ends coach Bruce Chambers on recruiting Irby: "Bobby Kennedy is the coach on our staff that recruits California and Arizona. So he brought this tape to me, and it showed Blaine playing everything but tight end. He was playing fullback, he was playing linebacker, and the thing that I saw on tape that really jumped off the tape at me is that here's a kid that really had good size, was very physical, and could run. And then when I had an opportunity to look at the transcript, he was just lights out academically, and then when I had a chance to meet him, it was just a perfect fit, I felt, for us both athletically, academically, socially, all the way around.")
On the attention you get in Texas as a Longhorn player:
Honestly, I had no idea. It's crazy, because Texas football is the biggest and baddest in Texas. I remember when I got out there on my recruiting visit, my dad and I were in a restaurant, and somebody came up to me and started talking, and they knew everything about Texas football. It seems like everybody, even moms, knows more about Texas football than I do, and they bring up past players I relate to.
It's hilarious, but I love it at the same time, because so many people are around Texas football. The city of Austin with UT with all the sports. It's great just because there's so much support in the state of Texas. I remember we went to El Paso, and I met a couple of people that were big Texas fans. And going back to Arizona -- because I used to live in Arizona before I came to California -- it just seems like everywhere you go, there's at least one Texas fan there, and they know everything about you. They're big time fans. They'll give you the horn, or say Hook 'Em, and you give 'em the horns back.
It's been real fun. When I came there, I wasn't expecting that at all.
Of course, there can be a downside to that kind of scrutiny:
Oh, yeah. It's the old cliché quote: The eyes of Texas are upon you.
I mean, honestly, we've had a couple instances, with college football, with media and the technology, you've got to watch what you're doing. If you're with a group of people, or even if you're just with your friends, people can have a camera on their phone, and that can just go on YouTube right away, or be on Twitter.
So you've just got to be careful of everything you do. And you've just got to be smart.
On what he's learned from his experience:
It was a really hard process, but it's made me stronger as a person, and I feel like when I come back and play, I'm going to be stronger physically -- because I feel like my knee is stronger than it was -- but also mentally. I feel like I'm looking at the game from a different perspective right now, as a player-coach. I'm excited, but I've just got to be patient, and that's the hardest part. ...
I have faith that I'm going to come back. If I don't come back, I'll say, I'm going to be disappointed, but at the same time, it's not going to be the end. I've learned that football isn't everything.
This process has made me stronger as a person just because of the little things. I used to take a lot of things for granted, and now I appreciate the little things. ...
I've got faith. God's got a plan, and I'm just trying to take it one day at a time, you know. It's frustrating, but at the same time I'm enjoying a lot of different things. I'm actually studying to become a physical therapist now, or I'm going to start to. It's really interesting.
I'm excited to see what my knee can do, and when I come back, what kind of player I'm going to be.
In his final news conference before playing No. 1 Alabama for the Bowl Championship Series title game Thursday night, Texas coach Mack Brown said Wednesday morning that Jan. 7 is too late to play a game:
"For the coaches it's probably not. We can use it all. For the players, they lose part of their Christmas, they lose part of their new year, and as we all talk about trying to take care of the players, our guys go back to school here in about a week, and then we have spring practice at the end of February.
"I wish there was a way that we could move this game at least back maybe a week. And I think that when you see for the kids, because of what's at stake, they're excited to be here, so I don't want to insinuate in any way our guys are griping about how much time they've spent. But it's a lifetime experience for them, but I do think that if it could be
cut down, it would be better.
"Our game in the Fiesta Bowl last year was the 4th, and we thought that was even manageable. But when you get to the 7th, it starts getting into the semester. I think Alabama had to call school off for two or three days because they were getting ready to start school before the game. And then a lot of our friends that are teachers and coaches had to start school again and couldn't come out to the game."
In his final news conference before Thursday's Bowl Championship Series title game with Texas, Alabama coach Nick Saban turned the tables on the assembled media during his opening remarks:
"I know somebody is going to ask me what do you do different to get ready for this game. So before you ask me, I'm going to ask you, what do you do different to cover the game?"
One particularly clever member of the media answered Saban's question in coachspeak:
"I just take them one day at a time."
Which might have been the one big-game cliche the Alabama left out of his opening statement:
"Before I finish, I just wanted to put it in perspective for you so you could kind of understand that at this point you want to focus on execution. You want to make things simple for the players.
"It's a little bit like being in the batter's box before you've got to go up to the plate; two out in the bottom of the ninth and you've got to get a hit to win the game. What do you do? You go through the routine you always go through, which is what we're trying to accomplish with our players in terms of how we practiced yesterday, how we'll walk through today, the things that we'll do leading up to the game, make them as same and simple as we can, because the focus right now is on getting the best execution in the game.
"And I think those are the things that the players need to be able to focus on."
Looking for the turnover battle to make a difference Thursday? Both teams are in the Top 8 in the country in turnover margin.
Alabama (No. 5, plus 16) has turned the ball over a national-low 10 times. McElroy has thrown only four interceptions in 314 attempts.
"One of the things we preach is taking care of the football," said Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain.
Behind Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Texas (No. 8, plus 13) has forced 35 turnovers, the best figure among teams from BCS conferences.
"Coach Muschamp has really emphasized... forcing turnovers and how those change games," said Texas defensive end Sam Acho, "so we focus in practice and in games on trying to get at least three turnovers every single practice, every single game."
NEWPORT BEACH -- First he left the state, now Southlake, Texas product Greg McElroy will attempt to foil Texas in the BCS title game Thursday, as Alabama quarterback.
"It sometimes feels like you're breaking the law by looking out of state, but eventually you have to do what's best for you," said McElroy, who originally committed to Texas Tech before signing with Alabama.
McElroy was actually born in Los Angeles where his father, Greg Sr., worked in marketing with the Kings and Dodgers.
"I grew up in the locker room," said McElroy, "so that always helped me."
But he moved to the Dallas area when he was 10 and, like most Texas fans, is hopeful of the first Dallas Cowboys postseason victory in more than a decade this week.
"Hopefully, I'll have my favorite memory (as a Cowboys' fan) this upcoming week," said McElroy.
NEWPORT BEACH -- Texas safety Earl Thomas isn't just a consensus All-American and a finalist for the Thorpe Award who will lead his No. 2-ranked Longhorns into the Bowl Championship Series title game Thursday against No. 1 Alabama at the Rose Bowl.
The sophomore from Orange, Texas is also a "miracle baby" and Renaissance man.
His mother, Debbie Thomas, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 1987. Doctors recommended a hysterectomy, but within two years Thomas was cancer free and had her "miracle baby."
"So every time the church door was open," said Thomas, "she had me in there."
Thomas often played piano, organ and drums at his grandfather's church. He wasn't just an all-state selection at West Orange Stark High. At halftime, Thomas would take off his helmet and shoulder pads and play tenor saxophone with the marching band.
"You have to do everything at a (small school)," said Thomas.
He now plays jazz piano in the Austin music scene with a jazz band called "Bad Bones."
From Star colleague David Lassen at the first day of media days for the Bowl Championship Series title game Thursday in Pasadena:
NEWPORT BEACH -- There's a school of thought -- particularly, it seems, among those from the Southeastern Conference, which relentlessly promotes itself as the best conference in college football -- that Alabama might somehow have a hard time getting up for the BCS championship game after beating Florida for the SEC title.
To that end, Alabama coach Nick Saban -- apparently big on sporting analogies --has invoked the 1980 U.S. hockey "Miracle on Ice." After that team beat the Soviet Union in its historic upset, it still had to play another game, against Finland, and if it lost, it could have finished without a medal.
This might not be the ideal reference for a bunch of young men in the South, as was pointed out when defensive back Javier Arenas was asked about it.
"I don't watch hockey," he said.
After drawing a big laugh, he added, "but of course you hear what he's saying. ... I don't watch hockey, so I don't know exactly what he's talking about, but I get the concept of the story. And it's effective."
Before the SEC title game, Saban's analogy of choice was the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran boxing match.
"That was something I could relate to," Arenas said, approvingly.
"Each and every player on this team understands what he's saying, no matter sport it is, who he compares, who he throws in there. We get it. We understand it. We take it in. And we're going to use it."
Other quotes of note from Sunday's BCS media session:
Learning French: Arenas, on the complexity of the Crimson Tide defensive scheme: "When you first come in, you think it's like trying to learn French. ...
"For a lot of guys, it won't take that long, but for me, I've never been part of a defensive scheme such as this one. So it took me just a tad longer. But once you get it and understand it, it's very fun to be in."
Big problems: Crimson Tide defensive lineman Terrence Cody, on the challenges of life when you're 6-foot-5, 354 pounds: "You go to theme parks, you can't get on rides, because of how tall you are and how big you are. Some of those straps and pull-downs don't come down the way. ...
"I had to use the restroom on the airplane, and it was terrible. It took a while to get in there because it's not that big of a door to get in, and then once I got in, it was like, 'This is it?' "
Socked away: Texas receiver Jordan Shipley has a championship ring from the 2005 BCS title game at the Rose Bowl -- the sixth-year senior was a medical redshirt that year, sidelined by a knee injury -- but hasn't really worn it.
"Part of the reason is I'm just not real good with keeping up with my stuff," he said, "so my mom keeps it locked away."
Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has often been compared to former Texas quarterback Vince Young. But that doesn't mean many expected Pryor's breakout performance Friday night in the venue that Young made history.
"The plan was to make him throw the ball," said Oregon defensive end Kenny Rowe said. "But when he threw it that good, the plan didn't go well."
Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards -- all season highs -- and two touchdowns in Ohio State's 26-17 win over Oregon in the 96th Rose Bowl game.
"He certainly beat us throwing the ball," said Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Pryor hadn't topped 17 passing attempts since injuring a knee in a win over New Mexico State on Oct. 31, but he threw passes on eight of 10 plays in marching the Buckeyes to a game-opening 74-yard touchdown drive, capped by a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Saine.
"We felt that we needed to be balanced against this team," said Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. "I thought TP made good decisions. He not only made good decisions as to who to go to, he made good decisions when to throw it away and when to step up and run.
"He was engaged in the game, talking int the game between series, he knew what they were doing and why they were doing it."
The sophomore from Jeannette, Pa. put forth his best Vince Young impression by piling up 338 yards of total offense, throwing for two touchdowns and guiding scoring drives of more than six and eight minutes as Ohio State (11-2) set a Rose Bowl record by possessing the ball for 41 minutes, 37 seconds.
Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews and cornerback Anthony Gildon both played parts on the opening series of the 96th Rose Bowl, which ended with Ohio State taking a 7-0 lead on Terrelle Pryor's touchdown pass to Brandon Saine.
Both locals played at Oaks Christian School.
Matthews, an Agoura Hills resident, nearly intercepted Pryor across the middle on the first play from scrimmage. Gildon, a Simi Valley resident, defended Pryor's second-and-10 pass in the end zone.
UPDATE: Matthews made back-to-back tackles on third and fourth down carries by Pryor and Taurian Washington inside the Oregon 5-yard line to keep the Buckeyes from taking a 14-0 lead in the final minute of the first quarter.
Lydell Sargeant's view of the USC football team proved to be all too accurate.
Sargeant, the only Southern Californian on the Penn State roster - he played at Cabrillo High in Lompoc - talked earlier in the week about how he consistently spoke well of the Trojans during his time in State College, Pa.,
"I pump up all the USC guys when I was going through college because I know them," said Sargeant, who attended USC summer football camps and played in all-star games with some of the current Trojans.
"I've always said I think Mark (Sanchez) is the best quarterback I've ever seen personally."
And so, of course, Sanchez went out and completed 28 of 35 passes for 413 yards, tying a Rose Bowl record with four touchdown passes.
"Mark did a good job throwing to the receivers that were open and really reading our coverages," Sargeant said.
PASADENA -- For much of Thursday's Rose Bowl game, former local standouts Kevin Thomas, Josh Pinkard and Clay Matthews were all on the field playing for USC's top-rated defense.
There were many plays where Thomas, the former Rio Mesa standout, and Pinkard, who starred at Hueneme, were holding down the corners, while Mathews, who played at Agoura, was stalking the Penn State quarterback from his defensive end spot.
Thomas said it was a thrill to be part of a defense that many people have called the best college defensive unit in the country.
"It's great playing on a defense with such great success," Thomas said. "The caliber of athletes we have, it's definitely a blessing. I am thankful to be part of this until I'm sorry to see it come to an end. Hopefully, we can improve next year.
"We definitely made a statement tonight. We have been playing a lot of these Big Ten teams an for us to come out and be so successful I think it says something about the team we have the confidence we play with."
Ventura County Star sports writer and columnist Joe Curley covers college sports and soccer for this Star. This is the place to click
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