Emanuel had this time to sit and reflect because he was hurt. Again. This time it was a deep ankle sprain with temporary nerve damage, and it happened in the third game of the season, a 23-7 victory over Oklahoma, He missed five games before returning to limited action against Arizona State. Emanuel looked at his right ankle, rolled it around and said, "I have tiny ankles. They don't go with the rest of my body." He smiled and tried to make a joke. "What happened is, things got messed up in the hospital, and I ended up with the wrong ankles."
When Emanuel arrived at USC to begin his freshman year, he missed most of preseason practice with a groin pull and then missed the year's first two games because of a lower back bruise. When he was finally able to play, he became the costarter at tailback. That lasted five weeks, until a sprained left ankle put him down for three more games. At spring practice in 1986, a sore left Achilles tendon sidelined him for a while, but a month into the schedule he won the starting job. He suffered a toe injury four weeks later, and was out for the remainder of the regular season.
In the spring of 1987, Emanuel was at a party where he pinched a woman named Sharon Hatfield, a member of the Southern Cal track team. Hatfield responded by throwing beer at Emanuel. He then hit Hatfield—an instinctive reaction, he says. Emanuel was suspended from school for a year and, after being convicted of simple battery, was ordered to do 100 hours of community service. Says Trojan coach Larry Smith, "There were too many expectations when he came here, and he couldn't handle them. I pitied the poor kid."
Last January, Emanuel was readmitted to USC early as a reward for good behavior, but he missed most of spring practice while recuperating from surgery to remove torn cartilage in his left knee and to repair a broken bone in his right foot. This fall Emanuel, who had along the way gathered a reputation for being lazy, returned in amazing physical condition—the best among the backs, according to Smith. Nonetheless, he was "demoted" to fullback, whereupon Emanuel, exhibiting a newfound maturity, said simply, "I'll block."
Even buried at fourth-team fullback, Emanuel played in preseason practices, Smith says, "like a man possessed. When he came back, he seemed at peace with himself. He came back with the attitude that he was at the bottom of the barrel and that's where he belonged."
Emanuel occasionally got to run a few drills at tailback, where he was listed as third team. Then, after a strong performance at both positions against Boston College in the season opener, a 34-7 win by USC, he was rewarded with the starting tailback job. In the Trojans' first three games of the season he scored six touchdowns. Then he hurt his ankle. "I'm not injury prone," Emanuel says with a straight face.
He also says, "When I touch the ball, there's not anyone who can bring me down by himself. I can hit any hole, run around any defensive back and over any linebacker. It's like a magic feeling, and a bolt shoots through my body. I wanted to win the Heisman. I still do."
Is Emanuel close to being as good as that? Says Smith, "I don't think we know."
But we may be finding out. Two weeks ago, against UCLA, Emanuel was given the starting tailback assignment. He bulled and twisted for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the Trojans' 31-22 win. Then against Notre Dame he had 95 yards on 18 carries. Because of his year's suspension, Emanuel is one of those members of the Class of '85 who still has a year of college eligibility left. Maybe he can win a Heisman.