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Published: Wednesday, 12/21/2005

UT's Fatula shares Binder

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

MOBILE, Ala. - Depending on the outcome of the coin toss, he could be on the field for the first play of tonight's GMAC Bowl game between Toledo and Texas-El Paso.

Heck, he could make the first tackle.

"And probably will," said UT coach Tom Amstutz.

That David Fatula is starting in a bowl game as a true freshman is no small accomplishment. That he was a walk-on at Toledo makes it even greater.

"He's not big enough, he's not this, he's not that," Amstutz said of Fatula. "All he's got is heart."

That's why he is a co-recipient of this year's John Binder Memorial Award at UT. It goes to the walk-on who most displays courage, character, spirit, hard work and unselfishness.

"John Binder was a walk-on who played with me in the late 1980s," said UT assistant coach Dave Walkosky. "He lettered in '87, but got Hodgkin's disease. He had to undergo major surgery. They cracked him open from top to bottom. But three or four months later, he was back in the weight room, lifting an empty bar, trying to do anything he could to play again."

Binder died on Sept. 1, 1991, and the award for top walk-on was established in his memory.

"Winning that award means a lot more than any statistic could," said Fatula, a 5-foot-8 1/2, 190-pounder from Steubenville, Ohio. "It was always a goal of mine to play Division I-A football, to play at the highest level. It was how I could make myself be the very best I could be.

"To be playing in a bowl game my first year is really exciting. It's a blessing from God. I play on the kickoff team, so I hope we kick off to start the game and I can get down the field and lay somebody out."

Fatula shared the Binder Award this season with red-shirt freshman Matt Tramba of North Royalton, Ohio.

"Every single coach loves these two kids, and that goes double for coach [Andy] Boyd and me because we were both walk-ons, too," Walkosky said.

Both participate on the scout defense team during practices and Amstutz said there are occasional scuffles when the starters feel Fatula gets overly-intense in practice.

"Everything that happens on the field stays on the field," Fatula said. "We're all friends afterwards. I think they appreciate it deep down, because it makes them better. In games, they face a lot of guys bigger and faster than me who go harder than I do. It's my job to help prepare them for games."

Amstutz said Fatula and tight end John Allen are the only true freshman walk-ons who will letter this season for the Rockets.

DOG-GONE: Amstutz blew off a formal dinner Monday night and, with his assistant coaches and their wives, crashed a media party at the Mobile Greyhound Park. GMAC Bowl officials at the party were so delighted by his appearance that they asked Amstutz and his wife, Beth, to present the trophy to the winning kennel in the eighth race, which was designated as the GMAC Bowl Championship Race.

Earlier, Beth Amstutz cashed one of the biggest quinella tickets of the night when two long-shots finished 1-2. Asked how she had handicapped the race, Beth explained that one greyhound was wearing a blue bib and the other, of course, was wearing gold.

TERRY WHO? Former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, now a member of the FOX-TV studio crew for NFL telecasts, was the featured speaker at yesterday's GMAC Bowl Mayor's Luncheon at the Mobile Convention Center.

Bradshaw, a four-time Super Bowl champion, is a self-described "watch dog" for a group of investors interested in buying the New Orleans Saints and preserving the franchise in his native Louisiana. He made it clear he doesn't think much of current owner Tom Benson.

"I heard he contacted the NFL office and asked, 'Who's this Bradshaw that wants to buy my team?' The guy really knows pro football, eh?" said Bradshaw.

WINNERS: At yesterday's press conference featuring both GMAC Bowl head coaches, Amstutz said he was concerned about facing UTEP, "as I am anytime we play a talented team that's used to winning."

A few reporters chuckled considering UTEP had just three winning seasons in 33 years before Mike Price became head coach in 2004.

"That was a great compliment coming from Tom," Price said later, "because he has the program that is used to winning. People should look to Toledo as a program to model themselves after."

TWO OUT: Price said yesterday that running back Tyler Ebell and receiver Jason Boyd, two injured starters the Miners hoped to have back for tonight's game, have not recovered sufficiently to play.

UT reports no players out with injuries, but colds and flu-like symptoms have spread through the team the past couple days. Amstutz, who has been bothered by a bronchial infection, said only one UT player was still feeling poorly yesterday and, "I think we will all be fine by game time."



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