1-2 punch

Heisman candidates Slaton, White can further bids at Terps' expense

Maryland vs. No. 4 West Virginia

September 13, 2007|By Heather A. Dinich | Heather A. Dinich,Sun reporter

West Virginia running back Steve Slaton and quarterback Patrick White live in an off-campus apartment in what White played down as "a normal household."

But there's nothing "normal" about two Heisman Trophy candidates living under one roof, let alone being on the same roster.

"I can't remember playing against one team that had two of them," said Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, whose Terps (2-0) will host the No. 4 Mountaineers (2-0) at 7:45 tonight at sold-out Byrd Stadium.

Only six times in the past 20 years have two teammates finished among the top five in Heisman Trophy voting, and this year, White and Slaton -- both juniors -- have a chance to make it seven. They lead one of the country's most productive offenses, and while much of the attention has been on their running abilities, White's improvement as a passer has made the Mountaineers even more difficult to defend.

FOR THE RECORD - There have been five sets of teammates who have finished in the top five in the voting for the Heisman Trophy award in the past 20 years. An article and chart in Thursday's editions indicated otherwise, and the chart didn't include Penn State's Ki-Jana Carter (second) and Kerry Collins (fourth) from 1994. Also, the feat has occurred seven times in the past 30 years.
The Sun regrets the error.

"I don't think there's anything we can't do," White said, "but I don't think there's anything we've perfected yet."

West Virginia enters tonight's game ranked No. 7 in the country in total offense (526.5 yards per game), No. 2 in rushing (339), and No. 4 in scoring (55 points per game). Slaton, the nation's leader in career touchdowns (43), rushing yards per game (125.1), points per game (10.3) and yards per carry (6.34), has accounted for 37.6 percent of his team's 678 rushing yards.

"I want to be known as the best running back here," Slaton said. "That's my goal."

He's on the verge of it.

Slaton has 38 rushing touchdowns in his past 22 games and is five shy of setting the school's career record.

"He doesn't like to lose at anything," White said. "He can be sitting around the house throwing paper in the trash can, and he'll play me till he wins."

White has 17 rushing touchdowns in his past nine games and has thrown two touchdown passes in each of his past five. He is 17-2 in 19 career starts.

Their popularity has spilled onto -- and been fueled by -- the Internet, as Web sites promoting the two are plentiful: patrick whitefans.org, steveslaton.org, steveslaton.com, heismaneers. com. Both players have highlight reels on YouTube and appear in a Big East Conference commercial, but the only thing they said they have control over is their MySpace pages.

West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez said the onslaught of attention hasn't affected either player.

"They've handled it very well," Rodriguez said. "This is not the first time they've been through it. They went through it last year. I thought they've handled it extremely well. They've worked very well and done it again this year.

"It's not changed who they are. They're still team-first guys who are first and foremost interested in what they can do to help us have success."

When Mike Montoro was hired a few months ago as the Mountaineers' director of football communications, he was given an uncharacteristic command -- do not promote Slaton and White in a Heisman "campaign." The university's marketing department was given the same instructions.

"Coach Rodriguez's philosophy is that team success breeds individual success," Montoro said. "We're on TV eight or nine times this year. ... That will showcase those players enough on TV that the voters and the whole college football world will be able to see what they can do."

Against the Terps last year in West Virginia's 45-24 victory, White and Slaton accounted for four touchdowns -- three of which came in a 28-0 first-quarter onslaught.

"They exploited us," Maryland linebacker Erin Henderson said. "We didn't do our part as a defense. They ran the ball whenever they wanted to run the ball and they looked good doing it. We did that to ourselves. ... We earned the right to be disrespected like we were last year."

While Maryland's defenders insist the unit has improved since that unforgettable first period last season, it hasn't yet faced a formidable opponent in 2007. The Terps held Villanova and Florida International to under 100 rushing yards, but Slaton has never rushed for fewer than 100 in consecutive games as a starter, and no active quarterback has run for more yards in the past two seasons than White.

"We like to put on a show," Slaton said.

Neither White nor Slaton seemed too concerned about the fact that, in the end, they could be taking Heisman votes away from each other.

"It would be a wonderful accolade for me," White said, "but I'm more worried about the team goal -- a national championship."

And how far are the Mountaineers away from that?

"Right now," White said, "about 11 games away."

heather.dinich@baltsun.com

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