Football Writers Association of America 2002 BEST WRITING CONTEST

Steve Henson, Los Angeles Times

Cory Paus is a little boy.

His UCLA coach says so, comparing the quarterback's failure to inform him about two alcohol-related driving convictions to a child deserving forgiveness after behaving immaturely.

Paus is a grown man.

Steve Henson
Los Angeles Times
Age: 45
College: San Diego State, Pepperdine
Background: Henson came to the Times in 1985 to help launch the Valley Edition as a reporter and editor. He wrote takeouts on a wide range of stories before taking over the UCLA football and basketball beat two years ago. When he’s not writing about sports, he coaches youth baseball.

He proved it after the Bruins' 27-0 loss to USC on Saturday, standing in front of a microphone and calmly answering a barrage of pointed questions that stopped just short of "Are you a drunk?" and "Are you a liar?"

Paus is a little boy.

He held the childlike notion that he could hide a terrible secret against all odds because he was in mortal fear of the consequences, the disappointment on the face of his coach and in the voices of his parents 2,000 miles away.

And when his secret became public, it hurt everyone close to him. Despite protestations to the contrary, the fact that Paus' convictions came to light Thursday night clearly contributed to the Bruins' dismal performance two days later.

Paus is a grown man.

He withstood a pounding at the hands of a revved-up Trojan defense, getting sacked five times and every time coming back for more. He threw for 45 yards on sevenfor- 15 passing, yet laid no blame on his fumble-fingered receivers or his linemen, who made like matadors.

This is not a mystery. The sandy-haired Chicago native is like a million other 21-year-old college students – a man-child, an enigma, a walking, talking contradiction.

The boy in Paus cost the Bruins dearly, so much that the man in him could not overcome the damage.

"I don't think it had an impact on tonight's game – for me," he said.

But for teammates already emotionally drained from coping with tailback DeShaun Foster's ineligibility, the Paus saga had a huge impact. Once USC went ahead, the Bruins had nothing in reserve, no fire to fuel a comeback.

Instead, for the first time all season, UCLA rolled over and died, getting shut out by USC for the first time since 1947.

"We were totally inept out there," Toledo said. UCLA drives were like people who drink responsibly: They went nowhere.

Twenty-eight yards rushing. Eighty-six yards passing. And when Paus exited after three quarters with UCLA trailing, 24-0, the Bruins had gained 58 yards in 35 plays.

"Obviously, he was under a lot of duress and didn't perform well," Toledo said.

But the coach refused to second-guess his decision not to suspend Paus for the drinking-and-driving episodes or for hiding them from him.

"There are a lot of means of punishment besides suspension," Toledo said. "Obviously, he's being punished now."

If punishment is being peppered with questions, Paus accepted plenty. When a UCLA official attempted to cut short the group interview, Paus wouldn't allow him, saying, "I'll answer more, I'm cool."

He was so cool, in fact, it begs a question: Why didn't he simply come clean at the beginning of training camp and put the issue to rest?

"It was a position I got myself into a long time ago and I've been dealing with it my own way," he said. "I thought it would be in the best interest of the football team not to talk about it. I almost made it through the season."

Paus said he told several teammates about his convictions, which will result in a four-day jail term in January, a hefty fine and a suspended driver's license.

"It didn't come out of nowhere for some people," he said. "I've spoken to a lot of [my teammates] before this week. They've been there for me."

There's an irony. A teammate or a parent of a teammate may well have revealed his secret. Loose lips sink ships.

Asked if he regretted not informing Toledo last summer about his June 9 drunk-driving arrest, Paus had a one-word answer: "No."

This begs another question: Is Toledo so trusting – or so oblivious – he invites this sort of thing? Obviously, Paus believed the coach would never find out the truth on his own. So apparently did Foster, who drove a 2002 Ford Expedition for six weeks in violation of NCAA rules.

Toledo wants to treat his players like men, but is the first to admit they are children. "Nothing shocks me any more when dealing with young people," he said.

In the absence of shock, the coach needs clarity. In his policies. In his response to crises.

A player who knowingly conceals personal information that could rock the entire team, that could contribute to the kind of debacle the Bruins experienced against USC, must be held accountable.

It's one way a boy becomes a man.


Comment from the judge, Gene Duffey: Well written, good quotes and excellent analysis.

• Second place: Jon Solomon, Anderson Independent-Mail
• Third place: David Jones, Harrisburg Patriot-News
• Honorable mention: Dennis Dodd, CBS; Steve Ellis, Tallahassee Democrat; Wright Thompson, New Orleans Times-Picayune