Morency's success lost in the shadows

Oklahoma State's Vernand Morency will be the other running back on the field Saturday when the Cowboys face Oklahoma and star freshman Adrian Peterson.

Maybe Saturday will be the day Morency's name finally reaches household status. He caught some attention after rushing for 261 yards in a victory at UCLA to open the season. A few might have noticed when he ran for 165 yards in a win at Colorado or for 173 yards last week in a come-from-behind win at Missouri.

But everyone would notice the 24-year-old former member of the Colorado Rockies baseball organization if he led the Cowboys to victory over the second-ranked Sooners.

Despite every team stacking eight and nine players on the line of scrimmage, no one has held Morency (5-foot-10, 215 pounds) under 100 yards rushing this season, just as no one has held Peterson under 100.

Morency is third in Division I-A, averaging 164.7 yards per game rushing. Peterson is sixth, averaging 146.1.

"Morency would want us to win the game irregardless of any individual matchup with Peterson," said Oklahoma State coach Les Miles. "But in a quiet moment, I would think he'll want to outshine the youngster."

Oklahoma State has lost only one game -- a 36-20 decision at home against Texas A&M in which Morency suffered his only two fumbles of the season. One led to an A&M touchdown. Morency bounced back by leading the Cowboys to a 20-17 victory at Missouri last week.

Morency had only 54 yards rushing at halftime as the Cowboys fell behind 17-0. But Morency finished with 173 as OSU stormed back in the second half.

"We didn't frustrate him at all despite his struggles early," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "He just kept hammering away with the confidence of a veteran and made plays as time went on."

Said Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, "Morency is powerful. He's got great vision. He finds seams, makes big plays and protects the ball. He's got all the tools you look for."

Although Morency is described by teammates as quiet, humble and a homebody who won't be found at the clubs at night, Morency is supremely confident.

"Whatever I do on the field is not a shock to me," Morency said. "I work hard for it."

He grew up in Miami and attended Northwestern High School along with mega-talented football players such as Santana Moss, Antonio Bryant and Snoop Minnus.

But baseball was his first love, a passion fostered by New York Yankees outfielder Gary Sheffield. Sheffield took Morency under his wing when Morency was 11 and playing in an RBI league sponsored by the Florida Marlins (Sheffield's team at the time).

As Morency progressed in baseball, Sheffield helped guide Morency, a 14th-round draft pick of the Rockies in 1998. Morency, a center fielder, hit .294 in rookie ball, but could never hit better than .230 after that, topping out at double-A.

Fate conspired to bring Morency to Oklahoma State. Morency was in the Rockies farm system with outfielder Matt Holliday, the son of former OSU baseball coach Tom Holliday. Matt told Morency to consider OSU when Morency said he was thinking of returning to football in 2002.

After Morency looked into the Cowboys and recalled their running back tradition built by the likes of Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, he was interested.

But Morency was also interested in North Carolina State and Miami, basically playing eenie, meenie, miney, mo with letters of intent to all three schools before selecting the Cowboys.

"I was shuffling them around and closed my eyes, but I knew my hand was on Oklahoma State," Morency said, who spends any free time at the batting cages, feeding his baseball addiction.

His first two years in Stillwater, Morency waited his turn behind Tatum Bell, a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos in April. But Morency showed his talent, averaging 6.8 yards per carry last season while rushing for 918 yards and six touchdowns in a supporting role.

Despite his success this season, Morency says he'll return for his senior season next year. Having already been a professional athlete, he acknowledges he misses cashing checks from his baseball career. But he says he promised his mother, Evelyn, and father, Vernet, he would get his degree.

"I got a scholarship and I'm going to fulfill that," Morency said. "Everything will pay off in time."

Chip Brown covers the Big 12 for The Dallas Morning News.