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Salvation Arm
Ivan Maisel
October 27, 1997
A third-string quarterback saves Florida, Rice overruns New Mexico, Walk-ons step up, Penn State steps down
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October 27, 1997

Salvation Arm

A third-string quarterback saves Florida, Rice overruns New Mexico, Walk-ons step up, Penn State steps down

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Our 1997 All-Walk-on Team

Even highly ranked teams have walk-on successes: No. 1 Nebraska and No. 3 Florida State start six walk-ons between them. Here's SI's lineup of players who beat the odds to earn playing time and—in most cases—a scholarship.

Pos.

Player, School

Skinny

OFFENSE

OL

Matt Hoskinson. Nebraska

Stalwart at center and guard for top rushing team

OL

Brenon Meadows, Alabama

Ex-Louisville player starts at right guard

OL

Brandon Burlsworth, Arkansas

Two-year starter turned down several I-AA rides

OL

Bull Heffernan, Utah

Fiery 26-year-old long snapper not on scholarship

OL

Truett Novosad, Houston

Has made seven starts over last two seasons

TE

Brad Rainko, Michigan State

Two touchdown receptions for 5-1 Spartans

WR

Jerome Pathon, Washington

Sixth in the nation with 116.5 yards per game

WR

Bryan Owen, Virginia

Walk-on placekicker now starts at wideout

QB

Boug Johnson, Florida

Pro baseball is paying his way

RB

Joel Makovicka, Nebraska

7.2 yards per rush; no carries for minus yardage

RB

Robert Reed, Mississippi

Averaging 15.2 yards per reception

DEFENSE

DL

Andre Wadsworth, Florida State

Nation's best pass rusher

DL

John Engelberger, Virginia Tech

Publicity-shy Hokie has 28 tackles, five for loss

DL

Bamidele Ali, Kentucky

Has seven sacks for 62 yards

DL

Selvesta Miller, South Carolina

Starter has eight pressures and four sacks

LB

Steve Tate, Virginia Tech

Engineering student building All—Big East season

LB

Eric Mayes, Michigan

Co-captain blew out knee on Oct. 4 against Indiana

LB

Brian Shaw, Nebraska

Has 15 tackles, four for losses

DB

Shevin Smith, Florida State

Four career interceptions vs. Miami and Florida

DB

Ryan Black, Colorado

Has forced two fumbles and made 36 tackles

DB

Ryan Sutter, Colorado

Made 28 tackles vs. Michigan on Sept. 13

DB

Marcus Spencer, Alabama

Tide starter was turned down at I-AA Alabama State

Anyone who doubted that football is religion in the SEC had his faith restored last Saturday at Auburn's Jordan-Hare Stadium, where Florida beat the Tigers 24-10. Not because, as the Reverend Steve Spurrier is wont to say, God smiled upon the Gators. (Although on a weekend when Louisiana State and Michigan State lost and Penn State lost respect, Florida not only survived against previously unbeaten Auburn but also climbed back into the national championship race.) No, the theme was redemption. Florida yearned for it after a 28-21 loss at LSU and received it thanks to a thick-bodied former walk-on quarterback with a biblical first name, Noah Brindise.

For most of his 3½ years at Florida, Brindise's chief duty was to say, "Way to go, Danny." But after first-year starter Doug Johnson was suspended before the Auburn game for violating curfew, and his replacement, freshman Jesse Palmer, was overwhelmed in his first college start, Brindise stepped in early in the third quarter and performed with Wuerffelesque calm. He directed a 97-yard touchdown drive that put Florida ahead 17-10, and the Gators never let Auburn back into the game.

With his hint of a double chin and the appearance of a guy leading the Phi Delts to the intramural championship, the 6'3", 222-pound Brindise doesn't look like a redeemer. The son of a Fort Myers, Fla., high school teacher, Brindise began his college career at Division II Wingate (N.C.) University—the only school that offered him a full ride. He lasted one redshirt season before leaving.

Brindise had lost a preseason battle with Johnson for the starting job, and after Johnson's suspension Spurrier passed him over in favor of Palmer because the freshman has a better arm and more potential. But Florida failed to make a first down on its final three possessions of the first half and went into intermission tied 10-10. After Palmer threw his second interception on the Gators' second play of the third quarter, Spurrier turned to Brindise. "I was the last one left," Brindise said afterward, with a smile.

The situation couldn't have been more perilous for him. Brindise had never played in a game with the first team, much less taken over with a tie score in front of 85,244 predominantly hostile fans. What's more, Auburn punter Jaret Holmes's kick had just died at the Florida three. But Brindise was unfazed. In 14 plays he drove the Gators the length of the field, twice converting on third-and-10 with pinpoint passes to Travis McGriff. His 10-yard touchdown throw to Jacquez Green gave Florida the lead for good.

"I knew Coach Spurrier had confidence in me," Brindise said afterward. "I don't have the strongest arm around, but I made the reads and handed the ball off to Fred Taylor. That wasn't that hard to do."

The drive won Brindise the right to play the rest of the game—he finished with five completions in 11 attempts for 69 yards—but no more. Spurrier declined to name Johnson as the starter against Georgia in the Gators' next game, on Nov. 1, but Brindise didn't. "Everybody knows Doug is the best quarterback," he said.

Ground Rice

New Mexico coach Dennis Franchione had the 6-0 team, the home field advantage and the hot quarterback, Graham Leigh, heading into last Saturday's WAC showdown against Rice in Albuquerque. But after studying videotape of the Owls' wishbone attack early last week, Franchione rode to the set of his weekly TV show, sat down in his chair and bluntly told his listeners that he'd just seen "a horror show." His fears were confirmed when Rice blazed to a 21-0 lead just 9½ minutes into a game that the Owls went on to win 35-23.

"People are always coming up to me and saying, 'Y'all don't pass the ball enough,' " says Chad Nelson, Rice's senior quarterback. "I just tell them, 'Why bother?' " He has a point. Rice's three primary ballcarriers—Nelson (109 yards against New Mexico), speed-burner tailback Michael Perry (133 and two TDs) and bruising fullback Benji Wood (68 and two TDs)—did nothing to hurt their chances of becoming the first backfield to boast three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

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