Responsibility fell on Lawrence Phillips like snow in Lincoln,
first gently and then in a blizzard. Twice as a true freshman in '93
he had come off the bench to rescue Nebraska's running game, pounding
UCLA for 137 yards on 28 carries, then getting 64 yards on 13 carries
in the Cornhuskers' narrow Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. But in
'94, as a sophomore I-back, Phillips was asked to assume the top
position on the depth chart.
The burden would quickly grow heavier. Four games into the fall,
Tommie Frazier was sidelined. More carries for Phillips. In the fifth
game, Brook Berringer suffered a partially collapsed lung, after
which Tom Osborne decided to limit the quarterback's exposure to
contact by running fewer option plays. More carries for Phillips.
And as Nebraska swept through the season, Phillips rushed for
1,722 yards, gaining more than 100 yards in each of the first 11
games. Responsibility fulfilled.
It was nothing new for Phillips. At age 12 he was living in
Inglewood, Calif., with his mother, Juanita, and his younger brother,
Sean. When his mother's boyfriend moved in, Lawrence moved out. ''I
didn't like the guy,'' Phillips says. He stayed with a friend until
child-welfare authorities placed him in a group home in West Covina,
where he lived for six years. ''Lawrence has been on his own for a
long time,'' says Osborne. ''He's a tough kid.''
That toughness has served Phillips well as an athlete but not
always so well off the field. He was, for example, the scourge of the
group home. ''The other boys feared him like the plague,'' says Tina
McElhannon, who ran the home. ''He was very quick to knock people
out, literally.'' Phillips eventually adapted and, looking back, he
says, ''The best thing was that they got me into sports.''
He was a star running back at Baldwin Park High and chose Nebraska
over USC. Still a tough guy, he was suspended once (for fighting) and
benched once (for missing practice) as a freshman; in '94, though, he
was a model citizen and the foundation of the offense.
''If Lawrence can keep everything moving in the right direction,
on and off the field, he has a chance to be one of the better players
we've ever had,'' says Osborne. If this year was any indication,
the key seems to be this: Increase the responsibility, and he will
carry the load. -- T.L.
This is an article from the Jan. 17, 1995 issue