In all of the hype surrounding West Virginia University’s move into the Big 12 with its first game against Baylor coming up on the weekend, there was one news item that simply slipped by under the radar.
On Monday morning, the coaching staff announced their players of the week from the Maryland game, something that normally offers little in the way of excitement. After all, who other than Tavon Austin was going to be the Offensive Player of the Game against Maryland?
But in the agate type, down near the bottom, the announcement of the scout team’s offensive player of that week nearly slipped by unnoticed, just as the man himself had done as he enrolled at West Virginia and joined the football team.
His name was Maurice … Maurice Zereoue, and if that last name rings familiar to some veteran WVU observers, it should for he is the younger — much younger — brother of all-time great running back Amos Zereoue.
When Dana Holgorsen, the head coach whom one suspects knows everything about all of his players, was asked what he knew about this young man, Holgorsen looked almost mystified.
“I don’t know much about him to be honest with you. I just figured out who he was a week ago,” he said. “I understand the last name, but he got on the team from the walk-on tryouts, and we stuck him on scout team week one and he did a good job, so we gave him more responsibility week two and he did a good job. We made him scout team player of the week in week three.
“He has done a good job of preparing our guys, and he has good attitude and he does well. That is about all I know about him right now.”
And that’s just the way Maurice Zereoue would have it.
If he is going to make it, he prefers he make it on his own and not because of his family tree.
“No, I didn’t tell anyone who I was,” he said when asked about it. “I just came out there and tried to work hard and play to my best ability. I’m not looking for a handout. Earn your name, you know.”
The fact that his brother left school after three years as WVU’s all-time leading rusher with 4,086 yards had nothing to do with him, just as Zereoue’s NFL career, mostly with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even now, as Zereoue owns a chic New York City restaurant, that has nothing to do with Maurice other than occasionally offering him a place to satisfy his physical hunger.
His football hunger, he says, he’ll take care of himself and that no, he does not feel as if he’s caught up in his brother’s shadow.
“You wake up in the morning and have your own shoes to fill. You can’t go around carrying someone else’s shoes,” he said. “He’s my older brother, my role model. I mean he pushes me and tells me ‘You can do it, too.’ That’s exactly what I look at, but at the end of the day I do have my own shoes and he has his shoes.”
Their roads to West Virginia were vastly different. Zereoue the elder was the hottest running back to come out of the New York City area since the immortal Jim Brown, whose high school records he’d broken.
Amos Zereoue had been born in the Ivory Coast 36 years ago, save a week, and come to life in Hempstead, Long Island, with his photographer father. A soccer player at first, Zereoue’s father decided to send him to a home called “Hope for Youth” during his high school days after he had some street problems. He wound up playing at Mempham High on Long Island.
Zereoue had problems getting into WVU and was a late addition to the roster in 1996, making as spectacular a debut as any player ever has, carrying for a 69-yard touchdown on his first carry in the season’s opening game against Pitt.
That game was on national television, and back home watching on his sixth birthday was younger brother Maurice.
Like Amos, Maurice had his problems in high school. He played football but was not gifted physically the way his brother was.
“My career was all right,” he said. “It wasn’t glamorous and stuff like that. I was just moving around. I bounced around, played wherever they needed me.”
He had academic problems and was not qualified to play college football upon graduation, deciding instead to attend Potomac State, which does not even have a football team, to straighten out his life’s direction.
“It was a journey where I didn’t know where I’d wind up,” he explained. “I knew I would end up somewhere, but I had to focus on books first. It was a moment when you don’t know if you want to do it, but I put my faith in God.”
He earned his associate’s degree at Potomac State and decided he’d follow in his brother’s footsteps at West Virginia.
“I sat there and thought about it and thought I had some football left in me. I wanted to help West Virginia and do the best I could to be a part of this team. The school does have significance in my life and my family’s,” he said.
He had not played football in two years, but he showed enough ability in a tryout to be given a uniform.
He saw it more as being given a chance.
At first it was difficult.
“You’re so jittery. You just want to make cuts, cuts, cuts, cuts. Little by little I started getting back into and got used to the tempo. It was just shaking off the rust,” he said.
He is being used in the slot, and he is making an impression.
“I just want to be a part of the team,” he said. “Everybody, even on the scout team, wants to get on the field. You play football, you play to play. You don’t want to just stay on the sidelines.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.