There was a long pause—long enough for Hagan to kiss his adolescence goodbye. "O.K.," he finally told Barnett. "Then that's what I'm going to do."
Back in Boulder, Hagan's attitude underwent a complete reversal. "He did not have a bad day the entire spring," says McCartney. For a change, Hagan was keenly interested in what was said at meetings. "Whenever Coach Barnett spoke, I turned on the tape recorder in my head," he says. Suddenly he was reading defenses as if they were the top row on an eye chart. His checks at the line of scrimmage were unerring. His teammates, who admit that they lacked confidence in him at the beginning of spring ball, had total faith in him by the end of it.
"His leadership turned on like that" says wide receiver Jeff (Soupy) Campbell, snapping his fingers.
"I decided I would be the man," says Hagan. The early returns on his decision were excellent. Hagan sprinted 75 yards in the '89 season opener against Texas, on his second play as a starter. He confounded opposing defenses all season, rushing for 1,004 yards and passing for 1,002, becoming the first player in Big Eight history to achieve that thousand-plus double.
Colorado's coaches knew he was fast and tough. What surprised them was his ability to improvise. Over the course of the season, two of his trademarks became the downfield "rugby" pitch and the "foul-shot" pitch. Twice, while falling forward, at the last possible moment he pitched the ball free throw-style over the heads of opposing defenders. At least half a dozen times—most memorably in Colorado's 27-21 win over Nebraska on Nov. 4—he pitched the ball back to his tailback after running 10 or more yards upfield.
"We have sophisticated rules about where and when he can pitch the ball," says Barnett. "Darian never breaks the rules. He expands them."
"He makes you hold your blocks longer," says senior tackle Bill Coleman, "because all Darian needs is that one step. If he gets that, he's gone. The next time we see him, we're all in the end zone, jumping up and down."
Says Campbell, "Every time he approaches the center, we all think, O.K., something great is about to happen."
And if it doesn't, if Hagan's protection breaks down or a back goes the wrong way, leaving him naked and alone against a horde of snarling foes, Hagan deals with it. Unlike a lot of quarterbacks, who execute dramatic hook slides when a defensive player so much as appears on the horizon, Hagan runs like a fullback. He enjoys taking hits and giving them out.
"When I tuck that ball away, I am a running back, not a quarterback," says Hagan, a blockish 5'10", 185 pounds. "It's just the way I am." Hagan's gritty inside running is the primary reason for Colorado's remarkably effective short-yardage offense this season. Thirty times the Buffaloes found themselves in third-and-one situations; thirty times they converted. Hagan showed further evidence of his toughness in the game against Oklahoma State on Nov. 11. Early in the contest, with the Buffs trailing 10-0, a linebacker named Sim Drain III stuck Hagan on the right shoulder. "He was legitimately hurt," says McCartney. Hagan had the trainer numb his arm, then returned to the game and rallied the Buffs to a 41-17 win.