reporters headed his way after practice, Marshawn Lynch has been known to hide
behind teammates, a playful--and futile--attempt to avoid interviews. Though
he's cooperative when cornered, he isn't particularly interested in
deconstructing how he does what he does when he carries the football. But
Heisman Trophy campaigns are unlike political ones in that words matter far
less than deeds, which is why Lynch, California's elusive junior tailback, is
in position to make a serious run at the award.
Of course most of
the Heisman voters are media members, so Lynch wants to make it clear that he
has nothing against them. "It's just that I'm all about playing, not
talking," he says. Lynch may lack the name recognition of Heisman favorites
such as Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and Notre Dame quarterback Brady
Quinn, but his 1,246 rushing yards last season, including 194 yards and three
touchdowns in a 35-28 win over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl, got the electorate's
attention. His season totals would undoubtedly have been higher if not for hand
and finger injuries that sidelined him for two games and limited him to five
carries in a third, so the Golden Bears can reasonably expect even better
production this year.
ingredient in Lynch's shot at the Heisman is that Cal, ranked eighth in SI's
preseason Top 20 and expected to challenge Southern Cal in the Pac-10, should
be in contention for a BCS bid--keeping him in the national spotlight. In fact,
Lynch's status in the Heisman race is almost identical to his team's standing
in the national championship picture. They're both intriguing dark horses who,
with a break or two, could be much more than that by season's end. "It all
comes down to the team; that's the biggest thing," he says. "If we have
the kind of season we're capable of, I'm pretty sure there will be a lot of
guys on this team who will win some awards."
breakaway speed--he had at least one run of more than 20 yards in each of his
10 games last season--but his leg drive is his most remarkable attribute. At
5'11" and 217 pounds, he's too much for most would-be tacklers to handle
alone. "He's one of those guys who disappears into a pile, and just when
you start looking to see where the referee is going to spot the ball, he busts
out of it for 10 or 20 more yards," says Oregon coach Mike Bellotti.
"His legs never stop pumping."
One of the
biggest impediments to Lynch's winning the Heisman might turn out to be the
Bears' depth at running back. His backup, junior Justin Forsett, is a 5'8",
180-pound flash who rushed for 999 yards last year and averaged more yards per
carry (7.6) than Lynch's 6.4. "There's no way you can keep a back like
Justin on the bench," Lynch says. "No matter which one of us is in the
game, our offense is going to be dangerous."
But Cal's offense
is most lethal when the ball is in Lynch's hands, and if he is called to the
podium in New York City on Dec. 9 to accept the Heisman, he will, of course, be
expected to make a speech. The electorate will be pleased to know that Lynch's
aversion to public speaking goes only so far. "If my teammates and I play
well enough for me to win the Heisman," he says, "I'll be happy to talk