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BROWNS Pickup Ben Gay draws in the fans



Published: Wed, August 15, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



The rookie running back is making the most of his chance to play in the NFL.

By PHIL NOVAK

VINDICATOR SPORTS WRITER

BEREA -- What is it that has Browns' fans chanting the name of un-drafted, free-agent pickup Benjamin Gay?

He's a guy who never played major collegiate football. A guy who played only one season at Garden City (Kan.) Community College. A guy who's only previous professional experience is a training camp last year with the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League.

Maybe it's the more than 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns he had in only nine games with Garden City.

Maybe it's the 21 touchdowns and 2,217 yards he amassed on 313 carries his senior year at Spring High School in Houston, when he was named USA Today first-team All-American, Scholastic Coach Magazine's Texas Player of the Year and a member of CNN/SI's Dream Team.

Or maybe it was the 58-yard run he broke in the Browns' first scrimmage that left everyone gasping.

Fans: It doesn't really matter what sparked the initial fanfare. The fact is, Gay has drawn the fans in, and chants of, "We want Ben" serenaded him in a scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills in Edinboro, Pa.

"The fans give me a vibe," he said. "I go out there and it's a rush."

Running with the ball is what Gay does best, and it's the reason Browns fans made him a hero before he even took a snap in a game. But it's been a long road for the high school superstar who once looked so promising.

In Texas, where the locals eat and breathe football, Gay was the biggest attraction around. He was a legend, already considered one of the greatest running backs to ever come out of the state.

"Football is so big in Texas," he said. "You see a lot of things that you won't ever see in other high schools."

To Baylor: After being recruited by nearly every major collegiate program in the country out of high school, Gay went to Baylor University. As he explains it, he didn't turn in his SAT and ACT scores on time. At Baylor, he was a Proposition 48 athlete and never played a down before he dropped out.

"I love the game of football, and that's pretty much the only reason I went to school," Gay said. "And I pretty much stuck to that. The game of football is going to be my life."

So Gay moved on to Garden City, where he played extremely well, but didn't get any notice. He went to Canada to try out for the Eskimos.

"I wound up leaving to have my little girl, and then I never went back," he said.

Then came the tough times, working as a security guard and working at a nursing home. His football career appeared over, but Gay never believed it.

"I had to pray a lot," he said. "Because a lot of things happen where you'll be like, 'Oh no.' But like I said, you got to work. You can never give up."

Opportunity: Browns coach Butch Davis remembered Gay after trying to recruit him out of high school. Davis offered him a chance to come to training camp, and now Gay is making the most of it.

He only played the final two minutes of the first pre-season game last Saturday against the Green Bay Packers, but he showed his skills. He made a fine cut back run for an 8-yard gain and finished with 24 yards on five carries, pumping his arms and getting excited each time he touched the ball.

"It's the first [professional] game of my life," Gay said. "So when they were like, 'Ben, it's your turn to go out there,' I couldn't just go out there and just hold the ball or lay down and take a little time off the clock.

"I was excited. I'm not really judging myself and my playing as to whether I did good or bad. I had fun. It was outrageous. I just love to play the game of football."

Development: But Gay, who is only 21 years old, knows that he must continue to work and grow as a football player.

"I feel there are so many things I can get better at," he said. "I'm a pup. I know a lot, but I have no idea about what I'll know six or seven years from now."

Six years is a long time in football years, and where Gay will be in four weeks is still up in the air. But if he keeps working and playing like he has, he could be a member of the Browns for a long time.

"There's a lot of history here," Gay said. "I just want to be part of that history."

pnovak@vindy.com




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