Texas Christian junior running back LaDainian Tomlinson spent his junior year at University High School in Waco, Tex., backing up central Texas player of the year Lawrence Pullen. But Tomlinson was patient, and as a senior, he not only started, he exploded for 2,554 rushing yards and 39 touchdowns.

During Tomlinson's first two seasons at TCU, he again was a backup, this time behind Basil Mitchell, who is fifth on the school's all-time rushing list. Despite his second-string status, Tomlinson rushed for 1,255 yards and 14 touchdowns, including 717 yards and eight touchdowns last season and was named second-team all-Western Athletic Conference.

This season, as was the case during his senior year in high school, Tomlinson is shining even brighter in his newfound starting role. After a 300-yard performance Saturday against San Jose State (the third-highest single-game total in school history), he leads Division I-A in rushing with 176.4 yards per game.

"I learned a lot from Basil Mitchell," Tomlinson said. "He really taught me the game and taught me things I need to know to be successful. This year, it was time for me to show what I can do."

Tomlinson's 89-yard touchdown run against San Jose State was the longest in school history. And with a total of 882 yards, Kenneth Davis's single-season school record of 1,611, set in 1984, is within reach.

If he finishes the season as the national rushing leader, he would give TCU its first individual or team statistical champion since 1955, when Jim Swink led in scoring and tied for the lead in all-purpose yards.

"I give all the credit to the offensive line and the fullbacks," said Tomlinson, who also has his eye on the school career rushing record of 3,749 yards set by Tony Jeffery from 1984 to '87 (Tomlinson has 2,137). "I'll have to take them out to dinner if [I break the TCU career record]. I hopefully some day will have that honor."

For now, Tomlinson takes particular pleasure in having big games against teams that passed on him when he was in high school. He chose TCU, which is located in Fort Worth, over Kansas State, Baylor and Texas-El Paso mainly because he wanted to be near his mother, who lives in Dallas. But that made Arizona a target when TCU met the Wildcats in its season opener. The Horned Frogs lost, 35-31, but Tomlinson rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown.

"I want them to feel like they missed out on something special," Tomlinson said. "When I play against a team that didn't recruit me or started to recruit me but didn't pursue it, it makes me want to do that much better against them."

This week, Tomlinson renews acquaintances with Tulsa, which is 101st in the nation against the run. Before this season, Tomlinson's two best rushing days had come against the Golden Hurricane--180 yards as a freshman and 165 last year.

Shoe Down in Troy

When Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute meet Saturday in Troy, N.Y., their annual renewal of one of Division III's longest series will be for local bragging rights and among the nation's most unusual rivalry-related trophies: the Dutchman's Shoes, a pair of size 10 wooden shoes that first were awarded in 1950. The shoes celebrate the region's Dutch heritage; one is painted fire engine red for RPI and the other is garnet for Union. The schools, separated by 15 miles and the Hudson River, have met 95 times since 1886. . . .

Wyoming had a third quarter to forget last week against Nevada-Las Vegas. After scoring a touchdown early in the quarter to cut the Rebels' lead to 21-16, the Cowboys' next four possessions resulted in a fumble, a punt returned for a touchdown, an interception returned for a touchdown and an interception at the UNLV 5--all in a 17-play span. The Cowboys made it close in the fourth quarter, but lost, 35-32. It was UNLV's first conference road win since 1994. Somehow, the Cowboys (3-2) still received one vote in this week's Associated Press media poll. . . .

With Kansas State running back Frank Murphy sidelined by a sprained ankle, the Wildcats' opponents are going to be seeing a lot of Joe Hall--literally, as well as figuratively. Hall, a 6-foot-2 junior, weighs 290 pounds, making him the nation's biggest running back. The next-biggest, or at least the player believed to be the next biggest, also is in the Big 12 Conference--Texas A&M's 6-0, 265-pound Ja'Mar Toombs.

Double Trouble

New Mexico's 6-4, 240-pound senior safety Brian "U-Turn" Urlacher has been impressive on both sides of the ball. Urlacher leads the Lobos with 59 tackles. As a wide receiver, his four touchdown catches (on four receptions) also lead the team. Last week against San Diego State, Urlacher made 20 tackles, recovered two fumbles--one of which he returned 71 yards for a touchdown--and deflected two passes. He's eighth in the Mountain West Conference in scoring and has been named to the watch list for the Bronko Nagurski Award, given to the nation's best defensive player.

Penned State

With his second-ranked Nittany Lions preparing to play No. 18 Ohio State on Saturday, Penn State Coach Joe Paterno banned most of his players from talking with the media this week. The few players available for interviews Tuesday expressed surprise at the mandate, saying no one on the team was having any problems with reporters. . . .

In part because legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant didn't believe in touting his players for individual awards, no Alabama player has finished higher than third in Heisman Trophy voting (David Palmer was third in 1993). But after last season, Crimson Tide Coach Mike DuBose promised running back Shaun Alexander that if Alexander returned for his senior season, DuBose would try to help him win the Heisman. The school sent out a CD-ROM with Alexander's statistics and highlights a few weeks ago, and has started an Alexander for Heisman Web site, www.37heisman.tide.ua.edu

Locals Bearing Arms

After succumbing to pass-happy Florida A&M last week in triple overtime, Howard faces Towson and quarterback Joe Lee (Warren County) on Saturday. Lee leads Division I-AA in passing yards (2,131) and completions (150). . . . East Carolina punter Andrew Bayes (DeMatha) leads the nation with a 49.85 average per kick.