It’s been 17 years ago this year, if that is possible.
Aug. 31, 1996, West Virginia University is at Pittsburgh, two plays into the season-opening Backyard Brawl.
The football is handed to No. 20, a running back breaking over tackle at the WVU 31-yard line. Not a hand is laid on him as he streaks down the sideline until he reaches the Panther 20, when a diving defender trying to trip him up swipes at his right shin.
He stumbles for a second, gathering himself to prance the rest of the way into the end zone.
One carry, one touchdown of 69 yards.
Amos Zereoue is now Famous Amos Zereoue.
Watching at home on television is a child, 5 or 6 as he recalls it now, sitting in the club area behind the end zone in Milan Puskar Stadium.
He is Maurice Zereoue, the youngest brother in the family, and you ask him about that day, about the man who is Amos, about what this man who went on to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL had meant to him and what it was like growing up in his shadow.
“It wasn’t hard. He’s my brother,” he said, today a walk-on member of the WVU team. “I don’t see him as everyone else sees him. You may see him as ‘Famous Amos.’ I see him as my older brother. I see him at home. He talks to me. He encourages me.
“He’s been there for me when I need help. For the most part, he allows me to find my own way. He doesn’t baby me.”
Let us go back first to Amos Zereoue’s days in Hempstead, Long Island. He had broken all the Jim Brown’s high school records, barrel-chested with muscles that turned any shirt into a small. He ran fast, he ran hard and he set his own records at WVU before leaving with a year’s eligibility left.
Maurice was 15 years his junior, and the shadow that he cast remained, although he refused to linger under it.
He would bask in his own sunshine.
As an underclassman, Maurice Zereoue bounced around on a senior-oriented team, playing more defense than offense. Then, as a senior, he was featured, but it was an inexperienced team.
He was being recruited, but soon it became apparent that his grades would keep him from playing football in college at the time.
“There was a lot of stuff going on then that was messing me up for school, and my grades didn’t come through at the end,” he said.
He wasn’t sure what direction he would take.
“At first I wasn’t sure I wanted to play football. I thought I might just want to go to school to get my grades together and stuff like that,” he said. “That was why I just went to Potomac State, a two-year school, which didn’t have football. There were no distractions.”
Maurice earned his associate’s degree and wasn’t sure which way he would go.
Amos Zereoue had offered him some advice, but never pushed him.
“We never had a conversation about me wanting him to go to West Virginia,” Amos Zereoue said last year after Maurice enrolled at WVU. “It was always his decision where he was going to go. I was just there to let him know that if he was really interested in West Virginia, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for him to go down there.”
Why did he decide to follow in his big brother’s footsteps?
“It was because when I was little I watched West Virginia play, and it became part of me,” he said.
And so he walked on as a running back.
He was put on the scout team, but it wasn’t until the third week, when he was named Scout Team Player of the Week, that WVU coach Dana Holgorsen learned the name and realized he was Amos Zereoue’s brother.
It made sense that he should earn a niche. Ask Maurice to describe Amos’ style, and he goes for “shifty ... explosive.” And ask him to describe his style and he thinks for a moment and says “shifty ... explosive.”
Now, of course, the competition at running back has become ridiculous at WVU, with Charles Sims coming over from Houston and joining Andrew Buie and Dustin Garrison with Pitt transfer Rushell Shell waiting to become eligible next year when Sims leaves.
Still, Zereoue is looking to find his place, to earn a scholarship and some playing time.
As he does this he’s contributing as he can, including becoming the unofficial haircutter for the team, doing nearly half the team’s hair when he has time.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.
It’s been 17 years ago this year, if that is possible.
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