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Here He Comes to Save UCLA's Day

College football: Ebell, Bruins' Mighty Mouse tailback, replaces White and burns Oregon State with 203 yards rushing and a touchdown.

October 06, 2002|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Tyler Ebell raised his left sleeve to reveal his tattoo.

Mighty Mouse.

Small but powerful. That's Ebell.

He is no more than 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, a redshirt freshman who was averaging just over three carries a game until Saturday.

He finished with an astonishing 203 yards against Oregon State--the 14th-best rushing game in UCLA history and the second-best ever by a Bruin freshman. Only Eric Ball, who ran for 227 as a freshman in the 1986 Rose Bowl, had more.

UCLA hadn't had even a 100-yard rusher yet this season.

Against Oregon State, Manuel White earned his first start over Akil Harris--only to leave the field with a hamstring injury after five carries.

Enter Ebell, who came out of the blue to become the only UCLA back besides DeShaun Foster to break 200 yards since 1995.

"He brought electricity," Coach Bob Toledo said. "Tyler Ebell did a fantastic job."

Suddenly, he looks like the new starter.

"We'll wait until Monday," Toledo said, hedging slightly. "Certainly he's going to play a lot."

Ebell was a workhorse against the Beavers, carrying the ball 29 times and scoring one touchdown on a five-yard run. He also broke a 73-yard run to the Oregon State one-yard line in the fourth quarter, setting up a crucial touchdown in the Bruins' 43-35 victory.

"I mean, I tried to get to the end zone. Unfortunately I didn't," said Ebell, who was brought down just shy of the goal line.

Some people thought one of the officials got in the way. Ebell said he didn't even see him.

"You know what, I didn't, actually. I just see flashes," he said.

Then he thought a moment.

"Yeah ... he got in my way," Ebell said, grinning.

Ebell set national records with 4,495 yards rushing and 64 rushing touchdowns as a Ventura High senior and was the West regional winner of the high school Heisman Trophy--an award that was presented to him by Tony Dorsett at an all-star game.

Though he was a redshirt last season and had appeared mostly as a punt returner this season, other Bruins say they knew what he could do.

Quarterback Cory Paus said he wasn't worried when he saw Ebell instead of Harris come in for White.

"I couldn't have been happier," Paus said. "I love all the tailbacks we have, and I've been saying for a long time those young kids could really run the ball. So I wasn't even worried one bit. I was excited about Tyler's chance to play."

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the slight Ebell is that he doesn't hesitate to take the ball up the middle.

"No, he doesn't. He can handle it," Paus said.

Toledo even jokes with Ebell about his size.

"I told him, 'You're too small to play this game,' " Toledo said. "But he's a powerful guy--powerful, quick and fast."

Ebell's speed provides a threat to get around the corner the Bruins haven't had, but he said he prefers another route.

"Yeah, I've got a little bit of speed, but I'd rather run inside and break it outside," he said. "I just like running up the middle. It's the quickest way to get upfield."

It's also evidence of the little-man's chip on his shoulder, right next to Mighty Mouse.

"I like to show I'm not just a speed runner or a third-down back or a scat back," Ebell said. "I like to run it up the middle and show I can't just be brought down by a little arm tackle....

"People always told me throughout my whole football career that I wasn't big enough to play the position I play.... A lot of colleges told me that.

"I got my shot to play running back, and I think I showed pretty well [what I can do]."

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