For all of his highlight-film gallops—Hagan broke three runs this season of more than 40 yards—his most spectacular scramble may have been a 13-yarder in the Nebraska game. With the Buffaloes 10 yards beyond field goal range and time running out in the first half, Hagan dropped back to pass. He had hardly taken the snap before it was necessary to start ducking Cornhuskers. "Six guys hit him, then four more, then three, then five," marveled Notre Dame head coach Lou Holtz, who was still talking about the play three weeks later. "Then he runs for the first down, and they kick the field goal."
Like Notre Dame's quarterback, Tony Rice, Hagan is an alchemist, marvelously adept at transforming common gainers into precious big plays. Of the two, Hagan is the more accomplished passer, completing 56.5% of his 85 aerials this season, to Rice's 49.6% (on 137 attempts).
As a freshman, Hagan emphasized his lack of discipline by shooting off his mouth. This fall, he has given his vocal cords a rest. It's all part of the grown-up, sophomore Hagan. "All these things happened at once, and they matured me," he says. Did he mean Aunese's death and his becoming the starting quarterback? "Yes," says Hagan. "That, and being a father." He has a 14-month-old son, Darian Jr., back home in L.A. with the child's mother, Pier Johnson.
As he has mellowed, Hagan has earned the right to do some talking. His teammates chose him MVP this season, and he was flown to New York City to be present at the Heisman awards ceremony. He finished fifth in the voting, which was won by Andre Ware.
The night before he flew to New York, Hagan stopped by defensive tackle Art Walker's apartment for a trim. Walker, the team barber, shaved into the back of Hagan's skull a wavy arrow pointing to the word SAL. In New York, Hagan was not often asked to explain his haircut. This might have been because Aunese's story was already widely known. Then again, it might have been because, throughout the weekend, Hagan seldom removed his hat—one of those natty felt numbers favored by the rap group Run DMC.
In a letter written a few days before he died, Aunese implored his Colorado teammates to "bring back the Orange Bowl." Once that game is history, will the Buffaloes finally release their grip on his memory? "I don't think so," says Hagan. "He's a legend now. The way he lived, the courage he showed while he was still alive—I know I'll never forget it. He made me a follower."
And happily for Colorado, the follower became a leader.