There are more than 100 players on the team, but only one ball.
Lose the ball, and you won't play. Travis Prentice has heard
that mantra repeated over and over by his coaches at Miami of
Ohio. The junior tailback hears it in his sleep, and he thinks
about it every time he touches a football. In Oxford there are
two cardinal sins a running back can commit: intentionally
running out-of-bounds and giving the ball away to the opponent.
The RedHawks devote 12 minutes during every practice to ball
security, and they have a rule that if a back loses a fumble, he
sits out the remainder of the half. No excuses.
Prentice vividly remembers coughing the ball up as a freshman in
a game against Toledo. After the ball popped out of his arms, he
walked to the sideline and took a seat on the bench without
saying a word to anyone. He hasn't lost a fumble in 662 rushing
attempts since then. (Though he did give up a fumble last year
after catching a pass.)
"The worst feeling in the world," says Prentice about that
Toledo game. "We were deep in Toledo territory, and I spun and
didn't tuck the ball away. The guy put his helmet on the ball,
which went straight up before I hit the ground. I remember
feeling helpless lying there while Toledo recovered. When I came
over to the sideline, I didn't even look at the coaches. I knew
I wasn't going to play for a while."
The 9-1 RedHawks have kept an especially tight grip on the ball
this season. They have lost only one fumble, on a kickoff
return. Going back to last year, the offense has run off 931
plays without turning the ball over on a fumble. It last did so
on Nov. 1, 1997, against Toledo.
Holding on to the ball is far from Prentice's only talent. In
his three seasons he has gained a school-record 3,810
yards--with 19 100-yard games--and amassed 56 rushing
touchdowns, a Mid-American Conference record. In last Saturday's
56-0 win over Kent, Prentice ran for 197 yards and four
touchdowns and also had a 65-yard touchdown reception. He ranks
second in the nation behind Texas's Ricky Williams, with 166.0
rushing yards per game. (Prentice did put the ball on the ground
once against the Golden Flashes, but a RedHawks teammate
At 6'2" and 226 pounds, Prentice combines deceptive speed (4.45
in the 40) and a Jerome Bettis-like penchant for running over
the opposition. Miami coaches keep a statistic called trucks,
which they award whenever a RedHawk flattens an opponent.
Prentice, with 58, is by far Miami's top truck driver. Which is
one reason RedHawks coach Randy Walker says, "Travis may be an
unknown commodity outside our area, but believe me, he's got
everything. I've coached eight running backs [at other schools]
who went on to play in the NFL, and Travis is better than all of
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN F. GRIESHOP [Travis Prentice in game]