Towson junior running back Terrance West has said all the right things since Monday night, when he finished last among the three finalists for the Walter Payton Award, which is given annually to the best player in the Football Championship Subdivision.
But senior left tackle Eric Pike said he wouldn't be surprised if the snub gave West even more motivation heading into the No. 7 seed Tigers' game against No. 3 seed Eastern Washington in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Saturday.
"Terrance is always motivated to help us get where we want to be," Pike said Tuesday. "So we know he's going to do his part."
Asked if he expects West to play angry, Pike said with a slight grin: "We're all going to play angry."
West (Northwestern) grabbed the spotlight with his FCS playoff single game-record 354 rushing yards and five touchdowns in Towson's 49-39 upset of No. 2 seed Eastern Illinois in the quarterfinals last Friday. But that's nothing new for the Baltimore native, who leads the country in rushing with 2,295 yards and touchdowns with 39.
"I've handled it very well," he said. "I never lost focus, which is the main goal, and that's winning a national championship. [On Monday] night, I had the Walter Payton Award and came in third. But I wouldn't trade [this] for anything. I love the situation I'm in right now. A national championship, I get to win something big with my team instead of just winning something individually. So this is a big moment."
West, who said he was unaware that he had eclipsed the previous record of 333 yards established by Georgia Southern's Adrian Peterson (the former Chicago Bears running back, not the current Minnesota Vikings standout) in 2001 against Massachusetts, didn't have many words to describe his performance against Eastern Illinois.
"I really was just taking it play after play after play," he said. "After the game, they told me the stats, and I was like, 'Wow.' That's when it really hit me. But during the game, I was just out there trying to stay focused and make no mistakes because I know my team. They're pitching on me, and I've just got to take it all in and handle my business on the field and don't let them down."
After he set the record last week, West received a congratulatory text message from Ravens running back Bernard Pierce.
"Me and Bernard Pierce are very close," West said. "He calls me all the time, texts me all the time. He watched the game and texted me after the game and said, 'You played good. You played your tail off.' "
West may soon join Pierce if he elects to declare for the NFL draft in April and give up his final year of eligibility. In September, CBSSports.com ranked West as the 14th-best running back in college and the first tailback from the FCS.
Bucky Brooks, an NFL media analyst for the league's website, watched West's performance last Friday and liked what he saw.
"Those numbers are certainly impressive, but they pale in comparison to remarkable displays of balance, body control and quickness West exhibited as the workhorse runner in a run-heavy offense," Brooks wrote in an analysis published on NFL.com on Tuesday. "Additionally, West showed the kind of vision, agility and burst to be a productive runner at the next level. Now, he will get downgraded based on his level of competition, but my eyes tell me West has the goods to be a solid pro down the road."
West, however, said he's thinking solely about Saturday's game, not his NFL future.
"I would feel selfish to go on the side and start thinking about my goals," he said. "We're in a situation that a lot of teams wish they were in right now. I can't let that down because I might never be in a national championship situation like this again — ever. So I want to take my best time with it and make the right decisions."
That maturity is something that Tigers coach Rob Ambrose thinks will keep West focused for Saturday's game against the Eagles.
"He's going to play his game," Ambrose said. "A year ago, this team — he included — would rise and fall to the situation, and the good news is we played well with the chip on our backs and would rise up a little bit. But they're a very mature group. … I know [for] my staff, the kids in the locker room, the people in the Towson community, Terrance doesn't need a trophy or anybody to tell him he's the best player in the country. We know who he is."