Nebraska sophomore Derek Brown rarely thumbs through a newspaper, but he regularly searches USA Today on Monday mornings for names in the Heisman Trophy watch, only to find . . .
Brown, a Cornhusker I-back and a former Servite High School standout, thinks a run at the Heisman is a year or two premature. After all, no sophomore has won the Heisman Trophy, and only 10 juniors have earned college football's highest honor.
"I'm more surprised than anybody to see that I'm a candidate," Brown said. "I doubt that I'll win it as a sophomore. I haven't been here long enough and I haven't done enough yet. But it's nice to see that someone's considering me."
Brown's name fell off most Heisman lists after Nebraska's nationally televised, 36-21, loss to Washington two weeks ago.
Still, he continues compiling yardage at a record rate, just as he did at Servite, where he ran for more than 2,400 yards and was named Southern California's top high school player as a senior in 1988.
After sitting out the 1989 season because he failed to meet Proposition 48 requirements, Brown improved his grades, regained his eligibility and added nine pounds through hours of work in the weight room.
As a part-time starter last season, he rushed for 389 yards and five touchdowns.
This season, he has come off the bench and is well ahead of the pace for a 1,000-yard season.
"When I first came here, I didn't expect to play much," Brown said. "But I sort of expected to be in this position entering this year.
"A lot of people have been asking, 'Where's Derek?' and 'What's he up to?' and I'm ready to answer those questions. I would be glad to carry the ball 30 times a game. I'd be glad to block 50 times in a row.
"People will finally get a chance to see what I can do."
They have already received an early glimpse. He has rushed for 100 yards or more in each of Nebraska's four nonconference games this season, becoming the first Cornhusker I-back to do so since Jarvis Redwine in 1980.
Brown has 531 yards and four touchdowns in 84 carries, including a 100-yard, two-touchdown performance against Washington, which has one of the nation's best defenses. He ranks ninth in the nation in rushing with a 132-yard average, and is 17th nationally in all purpose yards (146.5).
He needs only 822 yards to break the school's sophomore rushing record set in 1977 by I.M. Hipp.
"The thing I like about Derek is just the way he competes," said Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne, whose stable of running backs has included Mike Rozier, Roger Craig and Keith Jones. "He really goes after it, never shies away, and he's a winner. The kind of games we have played the last two weeks (Washington and Arizona State) really helps you sort out the competitors. Derek's definitely one of them."
Brown knows the exposure he gets as a sophomore could set up a Heisman run next season. The school's media relation's department already is billing him as an All-America candidate, even setting up a phone number where fans can call for weekly statistical updates and interviews with him.
And every big run Brown breaks--such as the 50-yarder where he blew past Georgia Tech's Ken Swilling in last year's Citrus Bowl loss--attracts more and more footage on the highlight films.
He started the Washington game with a highlight reel special--a 27-yard touchdown run off a pitch to the left side. Brown was mauled by his teammates in the end zone. He shook his fist into the television camera.
The celebration didn't extend past halftime.
Washington's defense began to figure out Nebraska's predictable offense. The Huskers had no passing game to complement their running attack, and Washington began to key on Brown.
One of the most punishing hits Brown took came in the third quarter. On a third-and-two play, Brown, 5 feet 9 and 185 pounds, dived over right tackle with enough momentum to get the first down. But he was stopped short by Washington linebacker Chico Fraley, who sent him flying backward over a pile of players.
"It was brutal," Brown said. "Somebody got me on the backside, then Fraley got me going over the top. I have a lot of respect for that defense.
"I think we played hard up to the third quarter. But some of us didn't have it in us. I felt great after the game, though. I could've played another game."
Brown and the Huskers rebounded last weekend at Arizona State. Brown had 135 yards in 25 carries, including a 34-yard run that set up Nebraska's first touchdown. He was named the Big Eight's offensive player of the week for his efforts.
"The thing with us," Brown said, "is that we have to keep going after the Washington loss. We can't change direction, we have to finish this season out. We have a lot of championship games ahead of us."
Brown, a part-time starter as a freshman, took over the spot full time this year because of injuries and attrition.