When Houston routinely gave its freshman players a weight-lifting test, McVea, who had never worked with weights in his life, begged off. Then for a week he quietly slipped into the training room to practice weight lifting on the sly. When he finally was tested he scored one of the highest grades on the squad.
At 5 feet 9 inches and 170 pounds, Warren is not built for brute force, for third-and-two plunges. As a child playing neighborhood football, he was too small to be a blocker, nor could he throw or catch the ball. But he was quick as a firefly even then, and the older boys found a place for him. "They put me behind the herd and let me run," McVea recalls. "We'd play a lot in the evening. I'd slip out of the house after supper and join the big boys. Ma didn't want me in the playground after dark, and she'd give me a whupping for it every time. But that never stopped me."
Though small, McVea is wound as tight as the string on a homemade baseball. "He has wonderful instinct," says Yeoman. He also has the balance of a high-wire artist, which he attributes to a pair of the squarest feet—size 8 double E—this side of Donald Duck. His footprints may be short and wide, but he lays them down fast. Warren has been clocked at 9.5 for 100 yards, and Houston Track Coach Johnny Morriss is already mentally reserving hotel accommodations for the 1968 Olympics.
But between now and then there is a lot of football to be played and McVea is playing it well. In his second game—the freshman team plays only four games—he scored one touchdown on a pass play and set up another on a 14-yard run as Houston won again. As a rule, freshman games are of no interest to the public, but large crowds—8,000 at the Air Force game—have turned out to watch McVea, even in practice. Tickets to freshman games are now in far greater demand than those of the varsity, and those fans who cannot get seats perch themselves atop the scoreboard or simply stand. "You never forget that people are watching you," Warren says, "and that some of them are waiting for you to mess up. But they do that with all athletes."
McVea insists that he has felt no discomfort so far at being the only Negro on the team. "It isn't a problem," he says. "I've been treated real nice by everyone." Coach Yeoman, who has done a great deal to make his young hero relax, adds: "There's only one place where Warren McVea has to prove himself, and that's on the football field."