SAN DIEGO -- Darrell Green of the Washington Redskins is the NFL's Littlest Angel, a regular goody-two cleats.

After leaping tall buildings -- or, at least, tall tight ends -- to score touchdowns, he directs all credit heavenward. "No man can take credit for it," he said. "Certainly not me."

He is as full of verve as one man can be, prancing around the field in search of receiver or football, whichever comes first. If teammate Eric Yarber gets tackled hard on a punt return, Green is the first by his side. If Yarber gets 20 yards on a punt return, Green is the first to high-five.

And, at 5 feet 8, Green can really high-five, because he can dunk a basketball in Spud Webb style -- though he hasn't yet mastered the 360.

On the other hand, he really has done a 360 when you consider how he got to where he is today -- the most talked about cornerback in the league.

When he tried out for high school football, they told him to get back on the track.

What they didn't know was the track team didn't want him, either.

When he ended up playing football, they wouldn't give him his own jersey. His senior season, he wore No. 32, No. 40 and No. 82. On the day of the team picture, he happened to be wearing No. 82, so he figured that was his official number.

When he went home, he slept in the garage with three of his brothers. Fortunately, he never was awakened early by sunlight, but that's because there were no windows.

One night, though, he was awakened by a brother. "Get up! Get up!" was the cry. Naked, he had to wrap himself with a sheet and get out of the garage. The house was burning down.

When a coach from Texas A&I University visited his Houston high school, the coach hadn't come to see him. But then the coach heard that little Darrell Green -- all of 140 pounds -- had run the 440-yard dash in 48.6 seconds. There were other kids in school who were faster, and the track coach had only let little Darrell Green run relays. But 48.6, that was pretty quick.

At Texas A&I, he cried. He missed home, missed getting a quarter every day for lunch from his mom, who used to leave every morning at 5 to go to work at a local deli.

When it got bad one day, he picked up and left for the bus station. His coach at the time, Fred Jonas, missed him at practice, played a hunch, drove over to the Greyhound station and brought him back to school.

When it got bad one day, he asked a hometown friend, Cornell Green, for a ride back to Houston for the weekend. Cornell said yes, but then took off without him, and Darrell learned later that Cornell was killed in a crash on the way home. "I could've been in that car," he told everyone.

When he and his cousin were cleaning up trash one Saturday -- as all freshmen football players had to do around campus -- a senior linebacker in charge kept bullying Darrell's cousin. The cousin came to Darrell complaining, and -- next thing Darrell knew -- the cousin and the linebacker were fighting. "Whoa," Darrell screamed. Next thing he knew, the cousin had stabbed the linebacker from behind, puncturing his lung.

When prosecutors came around, little Darrell Green had to answer questions. Every day, more and more questions until the case was finally settled, with his cousin getting placed on probation and suspended from school. One day after the first semester, Green was so fed up with all the commotion of his freshman year, he got to the bus terminal and got away.

Back in Houston, he drove a furniture truck. He was getting to be like his older brother, Lester, who actually used to beat Darrell in races, but hadn't graduated from high school and hadn't done much athletically. Little Darrell Green seemed to be slipping away.

Well, all's well that ends well. Jonas ended up leaving Texas A&I, but he kept calling Green, kept hounding him to go back to college somewhere. Meanwhile, Green's mom started taking the family to church more and more.

When Green was 10, his parents had separated, and his mother had carried the load of five boys and two girls ever since. Green says she did her best. Every time there was something on the TV news about a kid stealing something, she'd scream: "Ya'll, come and see this! Ya'll come and see this! Don't you do something like that, don't you dare!"

Also, she never wanted her son Darrell to play football.

"Would you want your kid to play at that size, at 140 pounds?" Green asks today. "No, I didn't think so. I wouldn't want mine to, either."

But a year and a half after leaving, he went back to Texas A&I, the only school that had recruited him in the first place. The new coach was Ron Harms, who soon was getting a lot of flack from fans who wanted Green at running back or wide receiver, rather than just cornerback.

One time, Harms put him in at tailback, but the entire defense pointed and shouted: "Watch the little guy! Watch the little guy!" When Green got the pitchout, 11 men were in his face.

Sometimes, 11 men aren't enough. As he progressed at Texas A&I, he was making a name for himself, getting named to -- what else? -- the Little all-America team. What they meant by "little" was "little school," but Texas A&I won several Division II championships. It was a school steeped in tradition, the home of Gene Upshaw and Jim and David Hill.

In early days, it was the first integrated Texas school, and it was seen as the avenue for black players to reach the pros. The first black was Sid Blanks, who had to pose as a Puerto Rican on the road so he could stay at the team hotel.

Green began to enjoy it there, and even began running sprints for the track team. One day at Angelo State in Angelo, Texas, he ran a wind-aided 100-meter dash in record time. People sat down and took notice, including a scout named Bobby Beathard.

To clarify his track history, he says when he was in junior high school he didn't want to run track. That bothered the junior high track coach, of course. Later, that same coach became the high school track coach and Green says the coach later held a grudge and wouldn't let him run sprints.

"No, I had no respect in high school," Green said, "I ran track in 10th grade, and then I came out for football in 11th grade, and everybody was telling me, 'Hey, get back on the track!' And the downfall of it was I got placed on the junior varsity {football} team in 11th grade, and that didn't sit too well."

He always thought he was kind of fast, though. Around his home, he and his brothers would pretend to be motorcycles and would buzz down the street at top speed. Only Lester beat Darrell.

Anyway, Darrell began winning all the track meets in college, and each time he'd say, "Thank God." A trainer -- whom Green only remembers as "Doug" -- heard this and asked him if he'd like to come to a bible study session. His mother had started him in church, and now he was continuing.

The rest is history, because Green says he was saved and says life has been a thrill ever since.

From that point, he was drafted in the first round by Beathard, who says he fell in love with Green the minute he saw him run. Certainly, Green could have been a running back or a wide receiver or a free safety.

His rookie season, he caught Dallas' Tony Dorsett from behind and, last year, he caught the Rams' Eric Dickerson from behind.

Some say those were two of the most exciting plays ever, but Green says it wasn't him. He smiles and points to the sky.