More Than Just Wing and Prayer

The first thing they teach you in journalism is Who, What, When, Where and Why. Let us tell you when, where and why a certain guy could go straight to Who's Who from Watts.

Darian Hagan came out of Los Angeles, but also practically out of nowhere, to make a name for himself in college football. He will lead highly regarded Colorado against equally regarded Tennessee in Sunday's Disneyland Pigskin Classic at Anaheim Stadium.

Hagan never started a collegiate game until last Labor Day, not long after Colorado quarterback Sal Aunese's condition was diagnosed as inoperable stomach cancer.

Dedicating himself to his teammate and his task, Hagan took care of business at quarterback against Texas--he ran 75 yards on the game's second play--then took Colorado to the top of the polls and the Orange Bowl, becoming only the sixth player in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 1,000 more in one season.

And, he did it while playing only 33 of Colorado's first 44 quarters.

After a century of Colorado football, the university came within one game of winning its first national championship. Darian Hagan was the who and the why.

"Now we want to prove that it wasn't a fluke, that we weren't some flash in the pan," Hagan said after knocking off practice, continuing rehearsal for a season opener that could be as exciting as some season closers. "Everything that happened last season just makes me hungrier."

Hagan never played one minute of quarterback while he was hanging with his friends around Broadway and El Segundo, playing catch at Athens Park, going home nights to his aunt and uncle, Brenda and Bill Wickliffe, to tell them how his day went, until one day, his Pop Warner team lost its quarterback.

"A friend of mine opens his mouth and tells the coach, 'Darian can throw.' So the coach says, 'OK, Darian. Throw.' "

So?

"So, I winged it."

Darian laughs, remembering that afternoon. He also remembers starting the next game and losing it, but not before throwing for something like four touchdowns.

It was the birth of a quarterback.

Except for one thing.

"I love it, but I'm not going to be playing it in the NFL," Hagan said.

No?

"Not unless two years from now the pros are using an option offense."

Oh.

"Not too likely."

No.

Darian isn't discouraged. He truly believes he will reach the NFL as a running back.

But first, there is a little matter of trying to repeat as conference champions, and trying to duplicate a season in which he became the first player in Big Eight history to do the 1,000-1,000 bit.

Before last season was over, the quarterback rushed for 17 touchdowns and turned defenses inside-out with his option pitches to his California fast-lane connection, tailbacks J.J. Flannigan from Pomona and Eric Bieniemy from West Covina.

Going into the Orange Bowl against Notre Dame, the Buffaloes were averaging a staggering 371.8 rushing yards per game and 6.1 per carry. That is a serious cloud of dust.

When Hagan was made the starter, the team was still reeling from Aunese's terminal illness. That was a lot for anyone of any age to handle.

Hagan put a touchdown on the scoreboard 75 seconds into his first game. He broke a 75-yarder against Texas, then a 71-yarder the next week against Colorado State. A week later, facing an Illinois team that upset USC in its opener, Hagan carried Colorado to a 31-point victory.

He was off to the races. Against Washington, the team scored six times in nine drives. Against Missouri, Hagan scored three touchdowns in 10 minutes.

Then 269 yards of total offense for the quarterback alone against Iowa State. Then two touchdown runs against Kansas. Then another 100-yard rushing day against Oklahoma.

"We looked great, man," Hagan said. "But it wasn't me. It was everybody."

When the Buffaloes ended the regular season with a record of 11-0, their six-point victory over Nebraska was the only time any opponent came within 17 points. These guys didn't just beat people. They beat the tar out of people. And their quarterback placed fifth in the Heisman voting.

Now, Darian Hagan goes for an encore. He spent part of his summer bulking up, unloading refrigerators, large silk patterns and other heavy objects from trucks, while getting reacquainted with his family and friends around Los Angeles. He's happy to be back living with his mother, Wanda Webb, who will be part of Darian's big cheering section Sunday at the Big A.

Most of the day, he'll just run.

But once or twice, just for old times' sake, he'll wing one.

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