As expected, Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel walked off with college football's most prestigious honor last Saturday when he received the 62nd Heisman Trophy. But the sport's most heartening award news last week may have been Kansas State cornerback Chris Canty's decision to remove himself from the running for any postseason hardware. Canty, who intercepted five passes this season and has already been named to five All-America teams, appeared a lock to get the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given to the top college defensive back. In addition Canty was a candidate for both the Bronko Nagurski Award (given to the best defensive player) and the Maxwell Defensive Award. But Canty withdrew his name from consideration for any of those trophies, citing his Dec. 9 arrest by campus police for driving under the influence of alcohol. He then apologized for his failure to carry himself "as a positive role model."
There was speculation that Wildcats coach Bill Snyder had made the decision for Canty, but neither would comment. Regardless, it was a good call.
Canty's withdrawal led to a revote by Thorpe balloters, who chose Florida's Lawrence Wright, an outstanding safety who has done a variety of good deeds off the field. In 1994 Wright set up the Right Trak program, which has provided athletic and academic guidance/tutoring for 40 at-risk kids from the Miami neighborhood in which he grew up. Wright's architectural plans—he's a building-construction major—are being used to build a community center in that same neighborhood. In short Wright has carried himself as the positive role model Canty regretted not having been.
Abdirizak Mohamud's victory in last Saturday's Foot Locker National High School Cross-Country Championship in San Diego represents a coming together of dedicated coaching and raw athletic potential. Abdirizak, a 17-year-old junior at Boston English High, took up the sport just two months ago, but in a way he's been running for much of his life. In 1988, civil war broke out in his native Somalia, and, eventually, he, his mother and 10 brothers and sisters fled their home in Mogadishu. They lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before moving to Boston in 1993. Abdirizak began running track, competing in middle-distance events, after he enrolled at Boston English in '94, but he never considered cross-country until last spring, when he met Tony DaRocha.
DaRocha, a 35-year-old physical education teacher at Boston's Lewenberg Middle School, is high school cross-country in Boston. In the 1970s, faced with dwindling interest, the city's 15 public high schools dropped their cross-country programs. Since then, kids from those schools who have wanted to take part in the sport have done so under the aegis of a single citywide program. That program was moribund when DaRocha, a former national-class distance runner at Boston University, took over as coach in '92. This season his program comprised some 25 kids, all of them immigrants or refugees, from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Haiti, Jamaica, Somalia, Vietnam or Zaire. "Few speak English well, and a lot have jobs after school," says DaRocha, "but they get turned on when they see what they can accomplish." DaRocha's runners race as nonscorers in suburban dual meets and as individual entrants in invitationals, usually outfitted in singlets borrowed from their school's track teams.
DaRocha spotted Abdirizak running track last season, was impressed by his speed and talked him into stepping up in distance. Though Abdirizak found his first two-mile run, in September, so grueling that he didn't show up for practice for another two weeks, his cross-country talent soon blossomed. He finished second in the state meet and second again in the Foot Locker Northeast Regional. In San Diego, Abdirizak outran the 31 other finalists with a strong sprint over the last 400 meters of the 3.1-mile course. His performance pleased, but did not surprise, DaRocha. "He's starting to realize how good he can be," says DaRocha. "This was a great learning experience for both of us."
Project for the Future
The most intriguing confrontation of the NCAA soccer tournament in Richmond took place not on the field—where St. John's defeated Florida International 4-1 on Sunday to win its first national team championship—but in a conference room at the Omni hotel. That's where 20 or so college coaches engaged Major League Soccer (MLS) deputy commissioner Sunil Gulati in a debate on Project-40, an initiative that seeks to develop a select group of American teenagers into elite professionals by providing them an alternative to college soccer.
The program, to be run by MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), will offer developmental contracts next spring to 30 of America's top 18-and 19-year-olds, who will be chosen from a pool of 40, including members of the U.S. under-20 team. Players who sign the contracts, which will be worth less than MLS's minimum salary of $28,000, will surrender their college eligibility. Although they have not worked out all the details, MLS and the USSF plan to give participating athletes money, beyond that paid by their contract, to help cover the cost of college if they wish to pursue a degree.