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by Joedy McCreary
(September 5) MORGANTOWN -- To learn all you need to know about West Virginia University tailback Amos Zereoue, just look at the brand-new tattoos on his upper arms.
Encircling his left bicep is a chain, which is held together by a padlock.
Above that is an ancient Chinese proverb for inspiration. The key to the lock is also branded on his left shoulder.
And scrolling down his chiseled right bicep, you'll find his "Zereoue" surname written in an Old English font.
The meaning is obvious: The key to unlocking WVU's much-anticipated season rests squarely on Zereoue's shoulders.
And, he says, he's already made a name for himself on the national level.
"Right now, I feel I'm the best back in the country," Zereoue said.
"I'm not taking anything away from the rest of the guys but I do just as much for my team as they do for their team.
"I have the total package," Zereoue said. "(LSU's) Kevin Faulk is more of an elusive guy but he doesn't have the power. (Texas back) Ricky Williams is a powerful guy who has speed, but I have power, speed, am elusive. That's what's different."
Zereoue has equally high opinions of his team.
The Mountaineers were picked to win the Big East Conference this year in a preseason vote of league coaches.
"Say we beat this (Ohio State) team," Zereoue said. "I don't see anybody that can stop us, unless we stop ourselves. We have a lot to gain. (Early in the season), that's when you want to catch a team like Ohio State. Last year, they had a tough time against Wyoming.
"We're not Wyoming."
That's why Zereoue says the Mountaineers have a golden opportunity to gain national notice with Saturday's 8 p.m. kickoff.
But if WVU loses, the season still goes on.
"Anytime the No. 1 team comes to your backyard to play you in the first game of the season, that's a plus for us," Zereoue said.
"But it's not a make-it or break-it game for us. If we lose we still have a chance to have a good season, and if we win, it's a stepping stone for us to have a great season. Either way, we're not losing big in this game."
Zereoue called the Buckeyes a "cocky and confident team," saying that the top-ranked Bucks have that swagger that marks a championship-calibre club.
"I know some of their players don't respect us," Zereoue said. "I really don't know what they're thinking about us. They're coming in here No. 1 and they think they're going to run over
us. It's our job to let them know that it's not going to be a cakewalk."
But Zereoue saves plenty of respect for Andy Katzenmoyer, the Butkus Award winner as the best linebacker in the country last year.
Respect, however, doesn't necessarily equal fear.
"A lot of guys would be intimidated (by Katzenmoyer)," Zereoue said. "He's probably the best linebacker I'm going to go against. But it's not 'Amos and Andy.' It's Ohio State versus West Virginia."
The last time WVU opened with a Top Five team, Nebraska shut the Mountaineers down in the 1994 Kickoff Classic, 31-0.
Then, a junior tailback named Robert Walker, who set the then-school season rushing record the year before, couldn't get on track at all.
Four years later, Zereoue -- himself the school's single-season rushing leader -- hopes things have changed. And he thinks that his improved blocking skills will be needed if the Mountaineers hope to escape a similar fate.
"It doesn't matter to me if I get the ball two times, no times or 50 times," Zereoue said. "Whatever it takes to win this ball game, I'm prepared to do it.
"When you play the big teams, you have to show up and play," Zereoue said. "At least I know I've done what I could during the whole summer to prepare for the game."
Zereoue understands that his Mountaineers must play "a flawless game" if they have any hopes of winning.
"We have nothing to lose and they have everything to lose," Zereoue said. "If they come in here and don't play like the No. 1 team, something could happen.
"But we can't go out there and give the ball to them. They'll take advantage of little errors."
Zereoue has rushed for 2,624 yards during his two years in Morgantown. He needs 25 yards to break Artie Owens' 23-year-old career rushing record.
Big deal, says Zereoue.
"This game is not about yards," Zereoue said. "It's about getting the ÔW.' If I don't get (the record) and we win, I still have the whole season to get it. Or I could get it on the first run."
Zereoue has been called the most dangerous runner in college football. But he owes that to the volatile nature of his supporting cast.
"I play on a team that has a lot of talent," Zereoue said. "When you add that to the punch, it's very dangerous. We have to play together. Once things start clicking, I could be just as dangerous as ever."