Of all the events that have shaped the life of Oklahoma quarterback Thomas Lott, two have had profound effects. Both were injuries. Neither was his.
The first was six years ago, his junior season at John Jay High School in San antonion. Tex. A cornerback the year before, he had beaten out a senior halfback in the fifth game and played both positions the rest of the season. He expected to be a halfback as a senior. And he was, until the quaterback tore ligaments in his knee in the second game.
The second was a year later. He was invited to play in the Texas High School All-Star game after the season - as a running back. He was trilled. Two days before practice began the coach called to tell him the All-Star quaterback had broken his hand.
Each time the request was the same: "Would you mind playing quaterback?"
Each time the answer was the same: "What could I say?"
"I never really wanted to be a quarterback," he said at a Press conference this week, "But I look at myself as an athlete first, I'd rather play running back, but I'll play any position I have to for the chance to play."
This is Thomas' lot in life. He still doesn't want to be a quarterback, not even on the brink of Oklahoma's rematch with Nebraska Monday night in the 45th Orange Bowl. He's fish out of water, a halfback drugged by the discipline of quarterbacking.
He accepts the responsibility in the true spirit of all-for-one, one-for-all. Three years ago, at the start of his sophomore season, OU needed a quarterback more than running backs. He had two alternatives: accept the offer or pull up a bench. Since he made his choice, Okhalome teams have gone 29-5-1.
"I was recruited as a quarberback," he said. "I knew that's where they were going to use me. They never deceived me. I knew right from the start that's the way it was going to me."
Which is the principle reason he chose OU. "Every school in the nation was after me," he said. But few of them ran a whishbone offense, which he knew inside out from two positions at John Jay. Fewer still ran it the way Oklahoma did.
To sign with a veer, I-formation or multiple-set school didn't make sense.
"If I had gone to a school that used the I," he said, "I'd have been even more behind as a quarterback."
Even so, it took more than a year to develop, and even then there were moments of second guessing. When was he going to learn how to pass, on lunch breaks? Not too, many pages of the OU play book are devoted to the friendly skies.
"Lots of times - many, many days and nights - I've been disgusted with the way things have gone," he said. My first year I almost left to go to Texas Southern. It wasn't so much because of the quarterback thing but internal conflicts on the team. We had a lot of problems. If you win (Oklahoma, 11-1 in 1975, was declared the national champion), everybody is supposed to get along and relate well to each other. We weren't doing that. I was just a freshman and didn't want to spend four years in that kind of situation".
Quarterbacking problems manifested themselves differently. Little things mostly. But they piled up.
To do the job effectively, he had to redesign his running style.
"In high school." he said, "there wasn't as much of a problem. We didn't have as good a line as we have at Oklahoma: I could cut anywhere. The ball was snapped and I took off.
"Once I got here, I had to slow down considerable, look for what the defense would give us.The hardest thing was trying to be patient."
Lott can't be sure where future interest lies - in his legs, which have accounted for 577 yards and nine touchdowns this year; or his right arm, inactive by comparison with 55 attempts, 21 completions, 440 yards and six touchdowns.
"I don't look at myself as a quarterback," he said. "I hope they draft me as a running back. I know I could have my share of yardage if I had carried the ball 25 or 30 times a game. If I got the chance, I know I could develop into a good running back. I could also be a quarterback, if the team that picked me was willing to work with me, help me improve my passing."
After the Orange Bowl game, he has one more chance to prove his point either way. He's been invited to the inaugural Challenge Bowl Jan. 13 in Seattle, an all-star game between the Big Eight and Pac-Ten Conferences. He and Nebraska's Tom Sorley were named like Big Eight quarterbacks.
"I'm hoping he'll (Big Eight Coach Bud Wilkinson) give me a little time at running back." Lott sait. "He wouldn't say for sure. Every time I've gotten myself ready to play running back. I've had my feelings hurt. Maybe this time it'll be different. I'd like one more chance to run, for anyone who hasn't seen me."