Little-known Amos Zereoue just might be the most dazzling
runner, A to Z, in college football. Zereoue, a 5'10", 200-pound
sophomore tailback, is the nation's fourth-leading rusher,
averaging 162 yards per game, and has scored eight touchdowns
while leading West Virginia to a 3-1 record, including last
Saturday's 28-17 victory at Miami. His darting style of running
has even earned him favorable comparisons with Detroit Lions
star Barry Sanders.
Zereoue (rhymes with tear away) has been thrilling Mountaineers
fans since the first play from scrimmage of his first college
game, against Pittsburgh last year. He took the opening handoff
and raced 69 yards for a touchdown. He went on to gain 1,035
yards in 1996, despite battling turf toe for nearly half the
season, and was named Big East rookie of the year.
This season Famous Amos has been an even tougher cookie. He
rushed for 174 yards plus three touchdowns in West Virginia's
season-opening 42-31 win over Marshall and then eclipsed that a
week later with 199 yards and two scores in a 24-17 defeat of
East Carolina. He was held to 52 yards in a loss to Boston
College, but against Miami he rushed for 206 yards, including
touchdown runs of 54 and 31 yards.
Zereoue's ability to change direction extends far beyond the
football field. Born in Ivory Coast, he came to the U.S. at age
seven with his father, Bonde, and younger sister, Regina. (His
mother, Theresa, a high school teacher who had never married
Bonde, remained in Ivory Coast.) His dad was a commercial
photographer who settled with his kids in the New York City
suburb of Hempstead, Long Island.
By the time Amos reached junior high, however, he was running
with a bad crowd. He cut classes, stayed out late and got into
fights until Bonde sent him to live at Hope for Youth, a home
for troubled boys, 15 minutes away in North Bellmore. "I had to
do something to save him," Bonde says. "He hated me for it, but
I told him, 'I'm doing it for your own good.'"
At Hope for Youth, Amos straightened out in a hurry. "The things
I did in Hempstead, I really wasn't that kind of person," he
says. "That's why the transition [to Mepham High] was so
smooth." At Mepham High, located in a middle-class neighborhood
in North Bellmore, Zereoue quickly found his way to the football
field. Although he primarily had played soccer as a child, he
became an instant star on the gridiron, eventually becoming one
of the most celebrated Long Island schoolboy football players
since Jim Brown. He surpassed Brown's high school career records
for rushing yards (5,360) and touchdowns (59), while earning the
nickname Long Island Express.
Schools like Ohio State and Penn State recruited Zereoue, but
they backed off when his first SAT scores didn't meet the NCAA
standards for a scholarship. West Virginia stayed interested,
and when his scores improved, the Mountaineers signed him. Even
before that, Zereoue had come to understand why his father had
shipped him to Hope for Youth. In fact, when Amos turned 16, he
had agreed to stay at the home rather than move back in with
Bonde, who had fathered two more children. "I wanted to see it
through," Amos says. "I knew my father was right."
Mountaineers fans are reaping the benefits.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [Amos Zereoue in game]