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Fozzy Whittaker's senior influence

AUSTIN, Texas -- Fozzy Whittaker was supposed to fade into the background.

The spotlight wasn't big enough for two. And Malcolm Brown was the one. He was the incoming superstar freshman. He had all the accolades. He was the latest and greatest.

Whittaker's time had come and gone. Injuries stole his thunder. Offensive schemes swiped his lightning.

One thing everybody forgot about was Whittaker's desire.

"He does inspire you," Brown said.

In six games, Whittaker has gone from an afterthought to the forefront.

No one ran harder than Whittaker in Texas' 55-17 loss to Oklahoma.

"His best game at Texas," Texas coach Mack Brown said.

No one has scored in as many ways -- direct snap, handoff, receiving and kickoff return. Twice.

"He's the only player in Texas history to score on two kickoff returns back-to-back two weeks in a row," the coach said, like a proud parent.

No one has been as selfless.

"A mentor," Malcolm Brown said.

No one has meant as much to Texas through six games as Whittaker. He has been a leader on a team that has needed one at every turn. And all this from a player who could have been pushed away by the attention given to a budding star. Instead he pushed the hype and ego aside.

"Fozzy's kind of like a brother to me now, and he does a great job," Malcolm said. "He just helps all of us out, not just me."

He helps with laughter -- "He can always make you laugh," Malcolm said. And he helps with selflessness -- "He's a guy that's like, 'Whatever you want me to do, I'll figure it out. I'll get it done,' " co-offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin said.

What Whittaker has done on the field is rush for 37 yards per game and four touchdowns, average 14 receiving yards, take the quarterback spot for direct snaps in the Wild formation, and return kicks.

"I think I'm used pretty well," Whittaker said.

And often. Take kickoff returns, for example. Whittaker didn't start the season there. It wasn't until the wide receiving corps became thin that Whittaker was pushed into duty in place of Marquise Goodwin.

Clearly, the move has worked. In his first game in that spot, Whittaker took the ball 100-plus yards for a touchdown against Oklahoma.

"It was a time where we were down," he said. "We needed a spark, and the ball was kicked right on the hash mark where I am, and I caught it.

"The 10 guys on the kickoff return team, they laid it out for eight seconds, just holding the block, long enough so that I could just run up the middle. All I had to do was just run right up the field."

The next week it was the same thing. Only this time, Oklahoma State had scored on a 100-yard kickoff return 12 seconds earlier. Whittaker came right back at the Cowboys.

What is unique about Whittaker is that he also knows when to hand off the spotlight off. He understands that for his team to be better, Malcolm Brown has to handle the ball more.

That's why Whittaker has taken the young back under his wing, why he rooms with him on the road, why he coaches him on the little mistakes as well as big ones and why he talks to him before every game.

"It surprised me," Malcolm said of Whittaker's attitude. "Sometimes the seniors don't really communicate with the freshmen that much. One day I'd like to be able to help another freshman like that, because that's a good deed, and he's doing it because he wants to see us succeed."

Mack Brown's wife, Sally, found out why while watching the two running backs navigate tables at a team dinner. Whittaker was leading as usual. Malcolm Brown was listening. At the end of dinner, Sally went over to talk to Whittaker. She asked him simply and bluntly why he was being so generous with someone who had taken away his carries.

"Because someone was good to me," Whittaker told her.

Now Whittaker is repaying the favor not just to the young running back, but to his team.

Carter Strickland covers University of Texas football and recruiting for HornsNation

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