Baltimore Stallions rookie running back Louis Fite was so excited to be given a chance to play yesterday that he was doing flips.
With the Southern Division title already clinched and home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs secured, Stallions coach Don Matthews took the opportunity to rest star running back Mike Pringle against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats to see what Fite could do.
After an inauspicious start -- Fite fumbled the first time he touched the ball on a punt return in the first quarter -- he awakened a rather passive crowd late in the second quarter when he landed on his feet after doing a complete forward flip over Hamilton cornerback Derek Grier on a 14-yard pass play.
Fite's acrobatic dive seemed to relax him. He finished the Stallions' 24-17 victory with 85 yards rushing and his first professional touchdown on 20 carries after gaining just 15 yards on seven carries in the first half.
"I felt a lot of butterflies," said the 5-foot-8, 190-pound Fite. "As soon as I landed on my feet and I saw the crowd get up, that got adrenalin in my body and I started relaxing.
"The first quarter, I had a lot of good cuts and good blocks, but I was trying to run on my own because that's what I'm used to. I'm not used to a great offensive line making holes for me. All I had to do was calm down, take my steps and look at the holes. And once I started doing that, the offensive line started getting comfortable with me and I started getting comfortable with them."
Fite keyed the Stallions' opening possession in the third quarter that culminated in his 1-yard touchdown run to extend their lead to 13-3. He had 30 yards on six carries in the drive.
A two-year starter at Texas A&I;, Fite said the flip -- which gave the Stallions a first down at their 30-yard-line on a second-and-eight situation -- was his way of atoning for his fumble.
"I had to pick myself up after the punt-return fumble," he said. "Once I got the ball outside, I knew I had to make a first down to make the coaches relax on me so I can play.
"I tried to get around [Grier], but he had already beaten me to the sideline so I just had to get over him."
It wasn't the first time Fite had done the flip in a game. He was nominated for an ESPY award last season when he did the same thing on a 30-yard touchdown run against East Central Oklahoma.
"I give him a 9.5 on the flip," said Stallions linebacker Alvin Walton, who is Fite's first cousin. "His landing was kind of rough."
Matthews wasn't exactly thrilled by the move, however, so Fite decided that one good flip did not deserve another.
"I don't think it came at the right time," Matthews said.
Yesterday's game was basically a one-shot audition for Fite, who does not figure to be included on the Stallions' playoff roster.
Fite, who was signed in August and placed on the practice roster, had played in just one game prior to yesterday.
"Both Pringle and [Robert] Drummond, the two other tailbacks, are in their option years, so we had to take a look at him to see if maybe he could be the guy next year if we lose both guys," Matthews said. "But he has a long way to go to get to the level that Pringle and Drummond are at."