Triple Threat : Texas A&M; Tailbacks Hill, Thomas and McElroy Have Combined for 2,316 Yards Rushing and 26 Touchdowns

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Here is Texas A&M; offensive coordinator Bob Toledo's theory: Attempting to restore the Aggies' humility after their 65-point performance in the 1990 Holiday Bowl, the god of touchdowns did not allow Texas A&M; to score one in its next two postseason appearances, both in the Cotton Bowl.

Texas A&M; tailback Greg Hill protests.

In the 10-2 loss to Florida State in the 1992 Cotton Bowl game, he insists, he did score a touchdown, although it did not show on the scoreboard because the officials ruled he fumbled before reaching the end zone.

"That was a touchdown, guys, I'm telling you," he told reporters before departing for a workout Wednesday at Texas Stadium for Saturday's Cotton Bowl rematch with Notre Dame. "I don't care what the instant replay showed."

As for the 28-3 loss to Notre Dame in the 1993 Cotton Bowl game, the reason Texas A&M; did not score a touchdown is obvious to Hill. He did not play.

Hill, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior from Dallas who ran for 2,000 yards in fewer games than any other running back in the history of the Southwest Conference, was one of five players suspended from the '93 Cotton Bowl because they accepted pay from a Texas A&M; booster for work they did not do, a matter that the NCAA, after a lengthy investigation, might rule on as soon as Monday.

Without Hill, reserve tailback Rodney Thomas got the call on virtually every Texas A&M; running play in a ground attack that gained only 78 yards against the Irish.

This season, however, the Aggies return to the Cotton Bowl with not only Hill and Thomas at tailback, but also Leeland McElroy, all of whom are now appearing in Notre Dame's film room as a three-headed monster.

"The only thing good I can say about them from a defensive perspective is that they can't all carry the ball at the same time," said Joe Wessel, who coaches Notre Dame's linebackers.

But Toledo does look for occasions when he can play all of them at the same time, using the powerful Thomas at fullback, the elusive Hill at tailback and the fast McElroy at wide receiver.

"That keeps the alumni happy," Toledo said.

It also keeps the tailbacks happy, although they maintain they do not mind sharing their position as long as the Aggies win. The team has done just that in 10 of 11 games this season largely because of the tailbacks, who have combined for 2,316 yards rushing and 26 touchdowns.

"They say we've got three great running backs and three unselfish running backs who put Texas A&M; first," Hill said. "True enough."

Thomas is the nice one.

A 5-11, 202-pound junior from tiny Groveton in East Texas and the team's leading rusher with 996 yards, he once was so disturbed about his teammates taking advantage of a broken vending machine that he later returned to the scene of the crime and repaid the machine with his own quarters.

McElroy is the electric one.

A redshirt freshman from Beaumont, the 5-11, 200-pound McElroy, brother of offensive lineman Reggie McElroy of the Kansas City Chiefs, led the nation in kickoff returns this season with a 39.3-yard average, running three back for touchdowns. He also had an 81-yard run from scrimmage.

Hill is the loud one.

"We're three of the fastest guys on the team, we're the best-looking guys on the team, we have the best haircuts and we have the best bodies," he said. "If this was a fashion show, everyone would be waiting for the running backs to walk across the stage."

He does not have to add that it is his stage. Before going onto the field for games, he tells his teammates, "It's Greg Hill time."

His time came late this season.

After sitting out last season's Cotton Bowl, he also was suspended by Texas A&M; for the first four games of this season because he was listed on two payrolls in the summer of 1992 while working only one job, a mistake from which he said he has learned.

"It's a real blessing to be able to play football, and I've savored every moment of it since I came back," he said. "I smile every time I carry the ball."

So do his coaches. In seven games, Hill ran for 707 yards, giving him 3,262 for his career. Only two running backs in Texas A&M;'s history have rushed for more.

Considering the possibility that the NCAA might place the Aggies on probation, perhaps preventing them from appearing in a fourth consecutive Cotton Bowl after next season, Hill said he has thought about making himself available for the next NFL draft.

"The guys in the neighborhood say I've got to go pro," he said. "I know where they're coming from because the people I grew up with are so poor. It's a temptation. I'm so thankful that I'm one of about 1% of the kids who grow up in the inner city wanting to play pro ball in some sport who has a chance to do it."

He has one other immediate goal--to graduate. He is on schedule to receive his degree in sociology next August.

If he does not succeed in pro football, he could return to Texas A&M; as a recruiter.

"I'm the best one we've got," he said. "Ask Leeland McElroy. I was at LSU for an indoor track meet when he was there on his recruiting visit two years ago. He came down from the stands to sit next to me, and I told him to forget LSU. Even though he plays my position, I told him to come to Texas A&M.;

"I said, 'If you want to be the best, come play with the best.' Nobody has better running backs than Texas A&M.;"

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