Big 8 Honors Casillas and Sanders as Conference Players of Decade

Associated Press

There is one memory that Tony Casillas plans to keep forever.

He's in Miami on a winter night, surrounded by excited people who are on the verge of realizing a dream. There is much shouting and hugging, and even a few tears.

Then the final seconds tick away from the game clock, and Oklahoma defeats Penn State in the Orange Bowl to become the 1985 national champions.

"I have so many fond memories of my days at Oklahoma, but that is one that I will never, ever forget--the moment we won the national championship," Casillas said.

For Casillas and his coach that night, Barry Switzer, the honors have not stopped yet. A panel of veteran media observers has voted Casillas, an all-America noseguard, the Big Eight's defensive player of the decade. Switzer, whose Oklahoma teams won or shared five Big Eight championships in the 1980s, has been selected the conference coach-of-the-decade.

The same panel chose Barry Sanders of Oklahoma State, who broke more than 20 NCAA records and won the Heisman Trophy in a spectacular junior season in 1988, as Big Eight offensive player of the decade.

Casillas, now with the Atlanta Falcons, beat out such all-Americans as Oklahoma State lineman Leslie O'Neal, Oklahoma linebacker Brian Bosworth and Nebraska linebackerdefensive end Broderick Thomas.

"I'm just overwhelmed, really," he said from his home in Atlanta. "That's probably the greatest honor I've ever had. There were so many great players in the Big Eight in the 1980s."

Switzer, who resigned last spring and is now writing a book, was chosen over Nebraska's Tom Osborne, who won or shared every other Big Eight championship in the 1980s except the 1989 title Colorado holds.

"That's quite an honor, really. It's a testament to a lot of great players and a great staff I had at Oklahoma," Switzer said.

During the 1980s, Switzer had 56 all-Big Eight players and two academic all-Americans. When he resigned, he had the best winning percentage among active coaches with a record of 157-29-4 in 16 seasons, .837. His Oklahoma teams during the decade were .771, 74-22-2.

"Some day I'll tell my grandkids that I played for the greatest college coach of all time," Casillas said. "I feel privileged I had the opportunity to be associated with the man."

Sanders, who could not be reached for comment, is a top candidate for NFL offensive rookie-of-the-year honors. While winning the Heisman Trophy in 1988, he practically made the NCAA record book for running backs obsolete. The 5-8, 197-pounder from Wichita, Kan., broke or tied 24 NCAA records, including most yards rushing with 2,628, 39 touchdowns, 234 points and 3,249 all-purpose yards.

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