The football game had been over more than an hour, but Washington State's Rueben Mayes, the new NCAA rushing record holder, was still talking, repeating one line again and again.

"I still don't believe it yet," he kept saying. "I'm sure it'll hit me tonight. What can I say? It was a great game. I feel great."

Mayes, a 208-pound junior running back, had good reason to feel great. His team had just defeated Pacific-10 rival Oregon here, 50-41, and in the process he set an NCAA rushing record by gaining 357 yards on 39 carries.

Eddie Lee Ivery of Georgia Tech had gained 356 against the Air Force Nov. 11, 1978.

Mayes comes from North Battleford in south central Saskatchewan, Canada. It's a prairie town of 15,000 where the high school usually plays in snow, which keeps most recruiters away.

"It's not a place where a lot of people recruit," Washington State's coach, Jim Walden, said. "We heard about him from a friend of mine." That friend is Hugh Campbell, who coaches the Houston Oilers. He used to coach the Edmonton Eskimos, and two decades ago was a star receiver at Washington State.

Mayes had an outstanding season at North Battleford High School, rushing more than 2,200 yards in his senior year. But he was not heavily recruited.

He says he decided to take the initiative and sent films of himself to the Eskimos and Saskatchewan Rough Riders, hoping that they would let the U.S. colleges know that he was available.

The Cougars' Canadian connection worked. Campbell introduced Mayes to Washington State recruiters, who were very impressed by his speed -- 4.5 in the 40.

During his freshman year, he ran the 400-meter relay for the Cougars' powerful track team, then decided to switch to football while studying business administration. He rushed 425 yards on 89 carries in 1982, but last year separated a shoulder and gained only 221 yards.

He became a starter early this season after Kerry Porter, the Cougars' leading ground gainer last year, got hurt.

Last week Mayes was the Pac-10 conference offensive player of the week for rushing 216 yards and scoring five touchdowns against Stanford. He has rushed 1,218 yards in eight games this year and has three games to play, including one against arch-rival and top-ranked Washington. The Cougars have defeated Washington the last two years.

Mayes says he has good rapport with his offensive line -- "I call them the Six Pack," he says. "Anytime I make my game goal of 170 yards, I owe them one."

The offensive line got more than beer Saturday night; Mayes reportedly bought pizzas for his blockers. Said Dan Lynch, an offensive guard: "We told him Walter Payton bought his line watches, so we should at least get hot dogs or something like that."

Despite the record, some skeptics in the Pacific Northwest still don't think Mayes is that wonderful. Oregon Coach Rich Brooks said, "We helped him look better than he was," and blamed his team's defense.

"We knew Mayes was going to carry the ball," he said, "and some of our defenses were keyed to that. But we did an awful job of executing."