Raghib Ismail walks softly while his teammates chatter and whistle as they file into South Dining Hall on the Notre Dame campus. At the training table the players load up on complex carbohydrates, replacing those coach Lou Holtz has wrung from them at practice. They decry the food's blandness, but no one stops eating. Once filled, they settle down and begin to spin football versions of campfire tales. Ismail listens as these young, gifted, national champion football players revisit those stirring days when they were big fish in small high school ponds. Then they talk about reality—how they came to South Bend and discovered how ordinary they were in the context of one another and the history of Notre Dame football.
At Notre Dame, they use Heisman trophies for paperweights; seven of the Fighting Irish have won the prize. At Notre Dame, greatness is expected, and the players gathered at this meal have the potential for greatness. This is why they have been invited, why they have come. In some, the trait is not obvious; in others, it is apparent. Leading this bull session is Derek Brown, a 6'7", 235-pound sophomore tight end from Merritt Island, Fla., who runs the 40 in 4.55 and has clear eyes, a ready grin and hands that resemble baby octopuses. He speaks like the debating team captain.
"Zorich—that's all you need to say," Brown says, referring to Notre Dame's All-America nosetackle. "Remember that practice when Chris told the seniors, 'Now which one of you is going to test me?' Remember that game when he finished with one guy, looked down and said, 'I crushed you, worm.' "
"Lyght," says a sophomore end named Tony Smith. "Never saw a cornerback like Todd, so smooth, so fluid."
"Ricky Watters—wow, he has the quickest feet in the universe," says Brown of the Irish's starting tailback. "There is just so much talent here. It makes you proud and humbles you."
But who is the quickest among them? The fastest? Now there is no debate, except from Ismail, the heretofore-silent, 5'10", 175-pound, 19-year-old sophomore they call Rocket. "Rock is the quickest," says Ismail's roommate, cornerback Rusty Setzer, who, as a high school senior, was the Indiana state champion at 100 meters. "I thought I was quick...."
"No, no, no," Ismail protests, his excitable tenor-baritone rising. It's a voice that pierces the dining hall. All heads turn. "Rusty's stronger than me. All these guys are. They're for real."
Brown smiles and says, "Raghib is the fastest. Tell the truth, Rocket."
Earlier, Ismail had admitted in a whisper that his personal best in the 40 is a fairly amazing 4.28. Running 55-meter dashes, he did not lose a single heat for the Irish track team during last winter's indoor season. "He said 4.28?" asks Brown. "He ran 4.18."
"No, no, no!"