FROM MY SEAT 

FROM MY SEAT

DEANGELO'S DILEMMA Dear DeAngelo,

Okay . . . I know asking you to stay in school one more year is like asking a 5-year-old to stay away from the Christmas tree on December 25th, but some desperate causes are worth the fight.

There’s nary a rushing record at the University of Memphis left for you to break. (The numbers are silly, D. With 1,828 rushing yards this year, you now have the top two seasons -- by far -- in U of M history. Your 3,942 rushing yards exceed the next most prolific Tiger by more than 1,300 yards. And 40 touchdowns in three seasons?!) Having hurt your knee before last season’s New Orleans Bowl, you’ll finally be able to play your first postseason game at the GMAC Bowl on December 22nd. With all due respect to the line that opened holes for you this season -- from left to right, Jason Johnson, Blake Butler, Gene Frederic, Jason Matthews, and Jeremy Rone -- you have shown the kind of talent Conference USA programs merely fantasize over. New challenges, for sure, await.

But DeAngelo, there is one distinguishing trait between college superstars like yourself . . . and college legends. College legends always -- always -- play their senior year. Can you recall the euphoria in the Mid-South when Peyton Manning announced (with his degree in hand!) that he would stay at the University of Tennessee for his senior season? That emotional spasm throughout Big Orange Country just might approximate the reaction you’d see if you held a similar press conference come January. You would become to the Memphis program -- with one more season of football, good, bad or ugly -- what Earl Campbell is to Texas, Archie Manning to Ole Miss, Tony Dorsett to Pittsburgh, Archie Griffin to Ohio State. Heisman Trophy or no (and apologies to your buddy, Danny Wimprine), DeAngelo Williams would be THE name attached to Memphis football, today and forever. You’d be Larry Finch with a helmet and shoulder pads.

Pardon me as I don my rose-colored shades, but there are other reasons for staying on campus. You’re on track to graduate with a degree in marketing management in December 2005. Which means (A) you could start focusing entirely on the 2006 NFL draft once the 2005 season ends and (B) you could put that new degree to use in ways most of us can never fathom.

Your mother -- Sandra Hill -- has been an inspiration to your entire team and fan base as she fights breast cancer. Needless to say, a son doesn’t need fame, fortune, or accolades to inspire a mother. But what about doing the unexpected, taking the path not flashing with dollar signs and endorsement deals. I assure you, DeAngelo, I’ve never seen a mom tear up with joy like one does when she sees her “little one” in a cap and gown.

I know, I know. An injury is waiting with the very next tackle. But think about the worst-case scenario. You saw it unfold right before your eyes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl when Miami’s star tailback Willis McGahee blew out his knee. Merely two seasons later, McGahee is starting for the Buffalo Bills. Even career-threatening injuries can be overcome. You’ve done it yourself, for Pete’s sake.

Finally, DeAngelo, why not stay in school because you’ll never be appreciated more than you have been here. From your disarming smile to your burst around left tackle in the Southern Miss game, from your charm on Fan Day to your insistence on including your linemen in any and all national interviews . . . you embody what Tiger Nation long believed a U of M football player could be.

If you choose to turn pro a year early, there won’t be any finger-pointing, no blaming you. To say the least, you’ve earned the privilege of making this choice so few college juniors get to consider. No, there won’t be any blame . . . just lots of regret. You have been at the forefront of what so many before you hoped (and often promised) to do. You turned the University of Memphis into a football school. And you made fall Saturdays in the Mid-South something a little more grand than a stage for SEC competition.

And back to that smile of yours, D. You can’t tell me your three years as a Tiger haven’t been happy days. Why cut the time short? When you get right down to it, Tiger Nation isn’t asking any more from you than it has since you dodged your first tackle. Just be a hero.

Sincerely,

The Other Option

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