A Complex Napoleon : Kaufman's Size Confounds NFL and His Heisman Chances Are Hurt by Sanctions, but the Numbers Are Stacking Up Quite Well

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At least they resisted the poster of Napoleon as Bonaparte, the little general in the French officer's coat, one hand tucked inside, the other with a football.

Not that they didn't try. The school's drama department had the coat, but Napoleon Kaufman of Lompoc looked at the proofs and asked out. What Kaufman wants, Kaufman gets at Washington, and the preseason promotional poster is of him in a football uniform, biceps flexed so the tattoo of his mother's name on his left arm stands out.

"Napoleon's Numbers" is the headline, and they begin with 1, making sure it is known he was the only player in the top 25 in NCAA statistics in rushing, scoring, kickoff returns and all-purpose yards last season. And they include 2,815, the miles from Seattle to the Downtown Athletic Club in New York, home of the Heisman Trophy.

In between there is 400, his top best bench-press mark, according to the hypesters. With all of the people at Washington's door with Pacific 10 Conference and NCAA sanctions the last two years, the school doesn't need the truth-in-advertising guys.

Kaufman's top mark was 385 pounds--until August, when he increased it to 420.

Update that number.

Actually, update a lot of them. Every Saturday night, after the Huskies play, postcards are mailed with his statistics. Against USC: 244 yards. Against Ohio State: 278, including 211 rushing yards. Against Miami: 102, the last two breaking Washington's all-time rushing mark, besting Hugh McElhenny, and the Huskies ended Miami's 58-game home winning streak.

You are reminded that Kaufman is a 1994 Heisman Trophy candidate and prompted to remember him as "America's Most Exciting All-Purpose Player."

Forget the hype.

With Kaufman's numbers, 443 rushing yards and 624 all-purpose yards in three games, all against ranked teams, he doesn't need it.

"I'll tell you what, I think he's as good a back as we've ever played against since I've been here," said Bob Field, who is in charge of preparing UCLA's defense to handle Kaufman on Saturday in Seattle. He has coached in Westwood for 16 years.

Washington Coach Jim Lambright didn't want to lose Kaufman, who was considering forgoing his final year to enter the NFL draft.

Since taking over for Don James after the Huskies were sanctioned for three years for NCAA violations mostly involving the school's summer jobs program, Lambright has been recruiting players to stay and running off several deemed not loyal.

"We started to recruit Napoleon with three games to go in the regular season last year," Lambright said. "We exposed him to the NFL and they gave him their opinions. Napoleon wants to live here in the Seattle area eventually. He wants to bring his mother here eventually to live. . . .

"Then we said, 'Let's talk about you as the great small back. If you're going to go high in the NFL (draft) in a year, what areas do we have to improve in?' The NFL personnel people were good enough to back us up in this, as far as his being a receiver downfield, returning punts and playing better in the big games."

Lambright hired a new offensive coordinator, Bill Diedrick, and charged him with confounding defenses keying on Kaufman.

"You'd better know where he is," Field said. "They'll line him up at tailback in their I-formation. They'll have him at splitback. Sometimes they'll line him up at wide receiver. He can be anywhere on the field."

Including punt and kickoff returner.

The coaches told Kaufman he would get the ball between 30 and 35 times a game.

He stayed.

So far, Kaufman has had the ball 31 times against USC, 38 against Ohio State, 31 against Miami.

"They said, 'You've got the talent, so we're going to go ahead and hype you up for the Heisman,' " he said. "But there were really no promises."

His NFL prospects helped with the decision. When he says, "I've chosen not to discuss (the pros' feedback) in the press," it's clear the NFL did not show great interest in a 5-foot-9, 185-pound running back.

His size confounds the NFL computers, sending back a warning. And there are others.

"One of his weaknesses a year ago, when the NFL came in and took a look at his videos, was his ability to compete against the best competition," Lambright said. "That's basically where the NFL (is) going to be rating you as far as the draft goes."

Remedial work was ordered. Last season he gained 51 yards in 18 carries against Ohio State. This season, 211 in 32. Last season against USC: 119 yards in 18 carries. This season: 152 yards in 26. Last season against UCLA: 81 yards in 19 carries. Saturday?

Kaufman bridles at the big-games assessment.

"I didn't agree with that, only because it takes a team to win," he said. "It wasn't like I was looking at the tapes and I was making all kinds of mistakes and I wasn't running the ball right. . . . I'm not the only one out on the field."

But he's the target, and that hasn't changed. Kaufman invites major league hits every Saturday, lowering his shoulder at the sideline instead of taking the easy way out.

"I'm tough," he said. "If I didn't want to hit, I'd play tennis."

Said teammate Eric Battle: "He's afraid to fail. He's doing what it takes to get where he needs to go."

Still, the 2,815 miles from Seattle to the Downtown Athletic Club are mostly uphill for Kaufman, whose team is out of the mainstream in the Northwest. Because of sanctions Washington cannot play in a bowl game, but that should not affect the Heisman voting, which is done in November and early December.

Lambright has used the sanctions to focus on the Huskies' first four games, and Kaufman has performed whereas some other potential candidates have not.

Some, including Michigan's Tyrone Wheatley, Notre Dame's Lee Becton and UCLA's J.J. Stokes, have suffered injuries. Others, such as USC's Rob Johnson and Stanford's Steve Stenstrom, have not played to expectations.

Kaufman simply keeps piling up the numbers--Napoleon's Numbers, which need no posters or hype to make a statement.

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