The most productive quarterback in college football over the last
two seasons has a secret. The summer before his sophomore year at
Walter L. Cohen High in New Orleans, Bruce Eugene was bored one
hot, sticky morning, so he went over to watch some of the kids he
played street football with in the St. Thomas Housing Projects go
through a real football practice under Cohen High coach James
Warren. Eugene's favorite sport was basketball--he had been the
point guard on Cohen's jayvee team as a freshman--and most of the
stars he admired were basketball players.
Before practice began, Eugene started playing catch with one of
his pals, who was a wide receiver. Eugene told him to go deep,
then deeper. Just as Coach Warren appeared on the sideline,
Eugene flung the ball in a tight spiral that eventually landed in
the arms of his buddy, 65 yards down the field. Warren, his eyes
as big as Goodyear tires, quickly called Eugene over and asked
him, "How would you like to play quarterback?"
"That's my secret--it's an accident that I'm playing football
today," says Eugene, who immediately accepted the offer and went
on to set the Cohen High record for most passing yards in a
season (2,685) in 2000. "I'm glad I decided to go watch practice
So are Grambling State fans. Through 10 games this season Eugene,
a junior, has passed for 3,151 yards and 29 touchdowns to lead
the Tigers to an 8-2 record. Last Saturday against Alabama State
he threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, a performance that
further solidified his status as a front-runner for the Walter
Payton Award, given annually to the top player in Division I-AA.
Eugene also is a big reason Grambling State is the favorite to
win its fourth straight SWAC championship. "Bruce is the
heartbeat of this team," says coach Doug Williams, who played
nine years in the NFL and was the MVP of Super Bowl XXII, when he
led the Washington Redskins to a 42-10 victory over the Denver
Broncos. "He has unbelievable arm strength. He also has great
mobility and athleticism, not that you'd know it by looking at
Indeed, at 6'1" and 270 pounds, Eugene looks more like a
defensive end who'd be trying to sack the quarterback than one of
the college game's top signal-callers. His girth, in fact, is the
reason no Division I school offered him a scholarship, but
Williams was intrigued by his arm strength and persuaded him to
walk on at Grambling State. Williams affectionally calls him
Fatback--"He's got a little Charles Barkley in him, a little
Round Mound of Rebound," says Williams. Like Barkley, Eugene is
deceptively light on his feet. He runs the 40-yard dash in 4.8
seconds, and this season he's third on the club in rushing, with
"Other teams underestimate Bruce when they see him on the field
because they don't think, at his size, that he can get the job
done," says teammate Tramon Douglas, a senior receiver. "But the
guy throws the best ball in college football--and I mean all of
Last year Eugene was the all-divisions leader in passing yards
(4,483), touchdown passes (43) and total offense (386 yards per
game). His coach believes Eugene will soon be playing in the
pros. "He can make all the throws," says Williams. "How far Bruce
goes is up to Bruce. If he keeps his weight in check, there's no
reason he won't play, and play well, in the NFL."
Suffice it to say, Eugene's talents are no longer a secret.
Besides Bruce Eugene, here are four other leading candidates for
the Walter Payton Award, which is given to the top player in
NAME, TEAM, CLASS, POS.
Charles Anthony, Tennessee State, Junior, RB
The 5'10" 190-pounder is tied for the division lead with nine
100-yard rushing games this season.
Jamaal Branch, Colgate, Junior, TB
He has run for 200 or more yards in a game three times in 2003
after missing last season because of academic difficulties.
Terrance Freeney, Northern Iowa, Sophomore, TB
After beginning the year as a third-string back, the 5'10"
216-pounder reeled off five straight 100-yard rushing games.
Andy Hall, Delaware, Senior, QB
A transfer from Georgia Tech, he has completed 17 touchdown
passes this season while throwing only six interceptions.