"He was upset after that fumble," says his mother, Mattie, who along with Carlos's father, Ralph, a truck driver for the city of Cincinnati, is one of Carlos's biggest fans and an obvious source of strength. "I told him, 'You're a learner, and there's no need to get upset if you learn from your mistakes.' In our family we've always said that there are no limits to the heights you can reach."
But Snow was having difficulty climbing the first step. Among other things, he was having a hard time adjusting to artificial turf. "I only played on it twice, and that was here in the state playoffs," he says. "I really like grass more. But the Big Ten is mostly turf, isn't it? I guess I better get used to it."
Above all, Snow had to learn how to hang on to a football if he ever hoped to play. After that performance against Oregon, Ohio State running back coach Lenny Willis presented Snow with a football with a handle on it. "Don't drop it," Willis said.
"It had pink eyeballs on it and pink writing that said something like 'squeeze me,' " says Snow. "I had to carry it everywhere. People thought I was carrying an Easter basket. It's funny, but it really did help. The message was, 'This is the price you've got to pay to succeed.' "
"The point was to keep him loose," says Willis. "Like any other kid from high school, he just has to learn about things. And as soon as he does, he'll be the tailback here. The man we call the Lighthouse."
One reason for Snow's faltering start was the hangover from the recruiting process. College scouts had descended on him, as they had on Smith, like a cloud of flies. Snow was leaning toward Georgia, to be near his paternal grandmother, who lived outside Athens. But after she died last February, he decided to attend Ohio State. Doing so meant snubbing another childhood hero, Herschel Walker, who had flown in from Dallas to guide Snow around the Georgia campus. "There's a lot of pressure on you," Snow says.
Bruce, a man under some pressure himself, working as he does in the shadow of the late Woody Hayes, slowly eased Snow back into the Buckeyes' game plan after the fumbles against Oregon. Four weeks later he got to carry seven times at Purdue. Going into that game he had four carries for minus-six yards. Against the Boilermakers he didn't fumble, and he gained 42 yards. "He was so nervous that he ran the wrong way on the first play," said Bruce afterward. "But when I asked him what he did best, he told me, 'Coach, I learned how to relax.' "
The next game was on Oct. 24, Snow's 19th birthday, and Bruce let the leash out a bit more. Snow responded in thrilling fashion, rushing for a game-high 85 yards and three touchdowns, and catching a 45-yard pass for another score as the Buckeyes whipped Minnesota 42-9. The four TDs in a game were the most ever by an Ohio State freshman. "I can't let a freshman stay in my doghouse," said Bruce afterwards. "I can see what happens to young kids. You saw what the little guy can do today; he can make the big play anytime."
Snow says that he started to feel at home after the fourth score, a safety-valve pass that he tightroped up the sideline. "Finally, I felt I was ready for college," he says.
Then came the Oct. 31 showdown with conference coleader Michigan State, on a gorgeous fall day at Ohio Stadium. Alternating at tailback with sophomore Jaymes Bryant, Snow gained just 18 yards on eight carries. Ohio State lost 13-7, netted only two yards on the ground, its second worst total in 97 years of football, and fell out of contention for the Big Ten title. The reporters who had half-expected to proclaim Snow's entrance into superstardom shuffled their feet and asked him rather perfunctorily how he felt. "I was frustrated that I kept slipping," he replied in his husky, respectful voice. "It seemed like Michigan State was all one big family. The way they were gang-tackling, it reminded me of the last game of my senior year against Kenton Falls."