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Fresh frosh

QBs Madkin, Applewhite to play vital role at Cotton Bowl

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Posted: Monday December 28, 1998 06:32 PM

  Major improvement: Applewhite won six straight games this year, including victories over arch-rival Oklahoma and then-No. 7 Nebraska Stephen Dunn/Allsport

DALLAS (AP) -- He's a redshirt freshman who began the year as a backup quarterback, then started the last nine games. Coaches thought he could lead the team to a New Year's Day game such as the Cotton Bowl, they just didn't expect it to be this January 1.

He hasn't had to do it by himself, though. He shares the backfield with one of the best running backs in the country, a guy whose name is all over the school's record books.

To Texas fans, it sounds like the tale of Major Applewhite. Mississippi State boosters recognize it as the story of Wayne Madkin.

They're both right.

When the Longhorns (8-3) and Bulldogs (8-4) play Friday, the marquee matchup will be between tailbacks Ricky Williams of Texas and James Johnson of Mississippi State. But the game could be determined by which quarterback plays less like a rookie.

Just getting their teams this far proves that Applewhite and Madkin have grown up on the job. Both are respected by their teammates, and coaches are willing to put the team's fate in their right arms.

The similarities, however, end there.

Applewhite, who looks like a 20-year-old Opie Taylor, took over the Texas offense in the second half of the second game of the year when fifth-year senior Richard Walton broke a bone in his throwing hand.

He did a nice job rallying the Longhorns in a 49-31 loss to UCLA then kept his chin up after a 48-7 loss to Kansas State in his first start.

Applewhite would go on to win six straight -- including victories over arch-rival Oklahoma and then-No. 7 Nebraska -- before losing to Texas Tech. He bounced back with a strong effort in the season-ending 26-24 victory over then-No. 6 Texas A&M.

"It seems like a blur, it's all gone by so fast," Applewhite said. "But it's been the best year of my life."

The 6-foot-1, 195-pound Applewhite looks at times as if a stiff wind could take him out, but he's proven to be tough and durable. He's also been accurate enough to make defenses pay if they go all out to try stopping Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Applewhite, a Louisiana native who seriously considered attending Mississippi State, has thrown for at least 200 yards in each start, including the first 400-yard game in school history. He also connected with Wane McGarity for a 97-yard touchdown against Oklahoma that's the longest play from scrimmage in the program's 106 years.

Overall, he finished the regular season 159 of 273 for 2,453 yards with 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. His yards and touchdowns were Texas freshman records and both were No. 2 on the school's single-season list.

"I'm absolutely amazed by what Major has accomplished this year," Longhorns coach Mack Brown said.

The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Madkin, who would be a lock to win a Chris Rock look-alike contest, came into this season as the backup to junior Matt Wyatt but knowing the job could be his.

"Coach [Jackie] Sherrill told me after the spring, 'I'm not going to give it to you, but it's there for you to progress and take it.' I respected and heeded those words," Madkin said.

Madkin relieved the mildly effective Wyatt the first three games, then started the fourth game against South Carolina. He led the Bulldogs to a 38-0 victory and he has been in charge ever since.

Things haven't always gone smoothly. He occasionally misread which play was called in from the sidelines and he had a tendency to speak softly in the huddle, especially in noisy stadiums.

But with each victory came confidence and from a 37-35 loss to Kentucky came the belief that he could be considered in the same class as Wildcats' star Tim Couch.

"There's a silent hunger you can see in his eyes," Johnson said. "He's only 19 years old. He's going to be a great player."

Madkin really came of age in late November when he led the Bulldogs to victories over Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi within 12 days and with Johnson was slowed by injuries.

Madkin finished the season 96 of 199 for 1,532 yards with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also probably led the team in number of times yelled at by Sherrill, who admittedly gave Madkin a big dose of tough love.

"I took his words to heart and tried to build on that," Madkin said. "I'm not to where I'm going to be or where I need to be. I've got three years to get there."

While Applewhite and Madkin are far more different than alike, they both share a link to the last freshman quarterback to start in the Cotton Bowl, Bucky Richardson in 1988.

Like Applewhite, Richardson is from Baton Rouge. And, like Madkin, Richardson's coach was Sherrill, then with Texas A&M.

 
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