Why now? The time commitment (double meetings, double film sessions) and the complexity of the modern game should make it far more difficult to go both ways than it was in the '60s. "Offense and defense were so simple back then," says Mississippi coach Tommy Tuberville, for whom junior Nate Wayne plays middle linebacker and short-yardage fullback. "Now teams run every formation in the world. I'm the head coach, and I can't figure out what we're doing most of the time."
Two factors account for the two-way trend: smaller rosters and the compelling talent of a few players. The NCAA-imposed 85-scholarship limit, which took effect in 1994, has forced coaches to be creative in filling the holes left by injuries and suspensions. Florida's Jackson, who rushed for 780 yards and caught 20 passes a year ago, has been needed on defense two games this season because of injuries to sophomore linebacker Mike Peterson and redshirt freshman linebacker Jevon Kearse. In the Gators' 47-7 win over Georgia two weeks ago, Jackson rushed five times for 34 yards, caught two passes for 54 yards and played 18 snaps at linebacker, with two tackles. USC's Morton was moved to tailback because Delon Washington and Shawn Walters, two of the team's top tailbacks, were serving suspensions early in the season. With their return to the team, he now plays mainly at cornerback.
Most two-way players are getting their additional minutes because they're too good to sit for half the game. Ohio State uses the devastating, 6'6", 320-pound Pace in its short-yardage and goal line defenses because, just as on offense, he is difficult to move or get past. Similarly, Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel says he has played the 6'4", 305-pound Naeole on the defensive line because "he gives us an aggressive, big body in there." Canty was given a shot at wideout because Kansas State lacked depth and experience at the position, but he's earned himself a regular gig—41 snaps this season—by producing; each of his four catches (18.5 yards per reception) has gone for a first down, and three have been on touchdown drives. "Once we put him at receiver, he proved to be as good as or better than we anticipated," says Kansas State coach Bill Snyder. Likewise, Woodson was moved to wideout because Carr felt short on offense, but he's been kept there because of his breathtaking effect on games. "If you have a talent like Charles," says Carr, "I don't care if you have all the depth in the world. You would be foolish not to get him as many snaps as possible."
The two-way players have injected a delicious chaos into the customarily rigid routine of the football week. "During meetings sometimes I forget where I am and what side of the ball I'm supposed to be watching," says Jackson. "It's like, Whoa, I'm in the twilight zone."
During games Naeole finds himself leaving the field with the offense but instead of sitting on the bench with that group, he'll hang near the field, uncertain if he'll be sent in on defense. "If [offensive line] Coach [Terry Lewis] wants to go over some things on the chalkboard, guys will be saying, 'Naeole, get over here,' but I'll be watching the defense, just so I can know if I'm going to be needed." During some of Michigan's practice periods, Woodson walks back and forth from huddle to huddle, depending on which side needs him for a play. Taylor does the same at Illinois, and when he leaves the offense, junior center Chris Brown tells him, "You're going to the dark side."
Predictably the defensive back-wide receivers idolize Mr. Two-Way himself, Deion Sanders. Yet they do not worship Deion's flash. Having tried to duplicate his workday, they are awed by his energy. "His stamina is unbelievable," says Morton. "For him to play bump-and-run cornerback and a hundred plays a game against the athletes he's going against is simply amazing."
Woodson might soon inspire a similar reverence, for he is the best of the current reversibles, a defensive force whose presence on offense has so affected Michigan opponents that the Wolverines have taken to using him as a decoy on several plays each game. Dubious last spring about doing double duty, Woodson soon discovered the payoff: more plays. More opportunities to tilt a game his way. "The one thing I've never liked is sitting on the sidelines," he says.
Woodson was hauled into the world of football while growing up in the Delaware Acres apartment complex on the east side of Fremont (pop. 17,648), which is situated 25 miles southeast of Toledo—and almost halfway between Ann Arbor and Columbus. When Charles was in grade school, his half-brother, Terry Carter, who's four years older, dragged him into brutal touch-tackle games. Charles became so good that Ross High coach Rex Radeloff wanted to put him on the varsity as a freshman. "Usually we don't even move up sophomores," says Radeloff. "But Charles was clearly ready."
Woodson's mother, Georgia—who was divorced from his father, a former amateur boxer named Solomon Woodson, when Charles was a toddler—didn't agree, and forbade Charles from playing on the varsity because she thought he was too young. Georgia, a strong woman who operates a forklift at the American National Can Co. in nearby Bellevue, was not to be questioned. So Charles played on the freshman team and then spent the next three years making up for that one lost season, playing with a Deion-like flair that raised the ire of many in the working-class community. "He almost looked like he was too relaxed out there to some people," says Radeloff. "He was cocky. He took shots from people in town."
Virtually every major college in the country recruited him, but for Charles the choice was easy. Terry had taught him to root for Michigan. Charles snapped up Michigan's offer and was a starter in the first week of practice. "You heard all about this guy's rep," says teammate Carr. "I figured I'd wait and see. Then the first day upperclassmen joined practice, he's out there holding his own with Amani and Mercury. I figured, O.K., I believe."