In action, Saxton resembles a knuckle ball more than anything else. He is fast—he ran the 100 in 9.8 in high school, 50 yards in 5.3 and is surely even faster now—but it is his inhuman quickness that sets him apart. At the end of two strides he hits top speed. He slithers through holes that other ballcarriers couldn't find with a road map. In an open field he would be hard to hit with a handful of rice. "He's like one of those toy balloons you blow up and turn loose," says Royal. "Lord knows where he's going."
"Let me tell you about Saxton," says John Seals, who played for the Longhorns last year. "We were working on a ranch up in North Texas one summer, cutting hay and clearing brush. James drives up on a tractor and he's holding this cottontail rabbit in his lap. 'Where'd you get him?' I asked. 'I ran him down,' James said. Well, I'd heard about guys who were supposed to be able to do that, but I'd never seen one yet. So I just laughed. The next day, darned if he didn't come in with three rabbits. He'd run them all down."
How to catch a rabbit
"It's not so hard," says Saxton. "I'd jump them in this alfalfa field where there was a lot of stubble. I'd get off the tractor and chase them. You stay with them and pretty soon they just poop out. They flop over on their sides and lay there puffing and you can pick them up with your hand.
"I caught a half-grown jackrabbit once, too, but never a full-grown one. And I've tried. You can stay with a jackrabbit pretty well when his ears are standing up; he's just idling along then. But when he puts those long old ears back flat against his head, he just takes off and disappears. No human being," says Saxton, "can catch a full-grown jackrabbit."
Few human beings can catch James Saxton either. In nine games this season he has played just 148 minutes, or less than a quarter a game. He has carried the football only 95 times. Yet he has gained 791 yards rushing, an average of more than eight yards a try, scored nine touchdowns, furnished runs of 80, 78, 66, 56 and 49 yards, and turned several football games completely upside down.
Saxton was born May 21, 1940 in College Station, of all places, the home of Texas A&M. His family moved to Palestine, in East Texas, when he was 5. "I used to run through the woods, dodging pine trees," he says: "Maybe that helped." He ran track, scored at a 20-point clip in basketball and was a 140-pound tailback on the high school football team. "I didn't dream I'd be good enough to play college football. Then Texas offered me a scholarship."
"The first time I ever saw him run," says Mike Campbell, the Texas end coach, "my hair stood straight up on end. The only trouble is that we didn't know what to do with him. He only weighed 150 pounds."
As a freshman, Saxton was a third-string quarterback who couldn't pass. As a sophomore, he was a third-string quarterback who worried himself half to death that he might call the wrong play. "I'd never called signals before," he says. "I used to take long walks around the campus at night, talking to myself. I couldn't sleep on Friday for worrying about the game and I couldn't sleep on Thursday because I dreaded Friday so much."
"We still didn't know what to do with him," says Royal, "but he had to play. You never saw such an exciting runner. He was sensational, even when he lost three yards. He would dance around and dodge and go back and forth across the field three times. The fans loved him—and I knew one thing: if we lost with Saxton sitting by me on the bench, I was going to get a lot of mail."