As a senior at Paola ( Kans.) High, Brian Shay, then a 5'9" 180-pounder who ran the 40 in a leisurely 4.8, was told he was too short, too small and too slow to play running back in Division I. He signed with a Division II school in Kansas, Emporia State—only to be told in the summer of 1995, just before the start of his freshman season, that Bryant Brooks, a transfer from Kansas State, had the inside track on being the starter.
Last Saturday, on a 75-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of Emporia State's 56-24 victory over Central Missouri, Shay became the leading rusher in the history of college football. With his 213 yards on 28 carries against the Mules, he increased his career total to 6,428, surpassing Johnny Bailey's 6,320 for Division II Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville) from 1986 to '89. In the four seasons since he beat out the competition to become the Hornets' feature back, Shay has set 10 individual Division II records, and all-division marks for all-purpose yards (8,661) and career 200-yard games (15).
"I'm not a very vocal person," says Shay. "I just go about my business. But when people doubt me, it motivates me. My life story has been about people telling me I can't do things."
Since high school, Shay has put in countless hours developing his body and his talents. He has added about 40 pounds of muscle to his frame and shaved 0.4 from his 40 time. He now squats 700 pounds, and he is as explosive off the line of scrimmage as he is strong.
In 1995, operating out of the run-and-shoot, Emporia State attempted 623 passes, averaging 56.6 per game (both are Division II single-season records) while Shay, a freshman, rushed for a workmanlike 678 yards. The next year coach Manny Matsakis devised what he calls the triple shoot, using a one-back set, an array of passing plays and complex formations to keep defenses off-balance. Shay's numbers improved immediately. As a sophomore he ran for 2,103 yards on 342 carries, and last year he amassed 1,912 on 269-Over the last three seasons Shay has averaged 191.7 yards per game, the best three-year average in NCAA history.
Baltimore Ravens scout Ron Marciniak, who spends most of his time on Division I-A campuses, calls Shay one of the best backs he's seen this season. Says Matsakis, Shay's coach, "The question shouldn't be whether he can play in the NFL, but for how long."
"People say I'm the perfect size for an NFL running back, which is funny because four years ago I wasn't big enough to play Division I," says Shay, who has been invited to play in the Blue-Gray Classic and the Hula Bowl. "I've learned not to listen to people who say I can't do things. If you have heart and determination, anything is possible."