The Florida A&M locker room was loud with celebration. Thirty minutes after Saturday's homecoming victory, the players were still carrying on, laughing and cheering. All except Tony Ezell.
The fourth-year junior quarterback sat quietly on a stool in front of his locker and put on his street clothes. He stood up, combed his hair forward, walked down the hall and returned his football gear to the equipment cage.
No muss, no fuss.
What makes this behavior seemingly inappropriate is that Ezell has plenty of reasons to celebrate this season:
He is a candidate for the Walter Payton Trophy, awarded annually to NCAA Division I-AA's best football player.
He has established a FAMU career record for most completions (251) and has tied the mark for touchdown passes (31). He has the single-season record for passing yardage (1,595) and should set three others _ most attempts, completions and touchdowns _ in the next two games.
In a recent 43-38 victory over Delaware State, Ezell set six single-game passing records: yardage (478), attempts (38), completions (23), longest pass (98-yard touchdown to Tim Daniel), consecutive completions (nine), and touchdown passes (five).
No matter. Ezell realizes that life extends beyond autumn Saturday afternoons spent on the football field.
There are more important things, such as earning a bachelor's degree in business marketing. Even as a member of a rambunctious fraternity that has earned a nickname of "Nasty Dogs," Ezell takes the high road: He is a past president of the FAMU chapter.
Drawing attention to himself by bragging of his achievements just isn't his style.
"I'm low-key and I guess I've always been that way," Ezell said softly. "When I was a freshman, lots of people said I was nonchalant, but I was just being myself. It (quiet personality) must run in my family blood or something because we're all that way."
Ezell's parents, Levi and Johnnie, trace their son's modesty to his traditional Southern rearing and parochial education.
As a youngster living in Mobile, Ala., Ezell was an altar boy at St. Catherine Catholic Church, and throughout his formal education he was a regular on the honor roll. He won a congressional appointment to the United States Naval Academy and graduated from McGill-Toolen High School ith a 3.5 grade-point average.
"He's always been so sure of himself,"
Levi Ezell said. "We made him that way by giving him all the attention he needed at home. That way, he never needed any extra attention from the media."
But the transition to college life and athletics has taken time.
As a redshirt freshman in 1988, Ezell became the Rattlers' starting quarterback. Although he guided FAMU to a 6-1-1 record, his GPA had slipped to 2.6.
"It was just a matter of me devoting the proper time to everything," Ezell said. "I had to start realizing what I was here for _ to graduate from Florida A&M."
"He was kind of getting off track of what was expected of him," Levi Ezell said, "so I had to make a phone call. I had to remind him about what we had talked about before he started there."
Just when Ezell had gotten everything under control academically, things on the football field slipped.
Following a disppointing 6-5 season in '89, the Rattlers started this season 1-3.
But Ezell didn't panic by criticizing his receivers for numerous dropped balls. He has efficiently led the Rattlers to three consecutive victories over Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference opponents.
Two weeks ago against Delaware State, Ezell was typically calm, low-key, but his performance against a defense then rated the best in Division I-AA was high-octane.
"Right before the pass, he gave me the look," said Daniel, referring to the record-setting touchdown play. "At halftime, we knew he (Ezell) might be on a record pace, but he didn't say anything. He's not that type of person; he's just a leader."
FAMU coach Ken Riley: "He's always been quiet, but the biggest change is that he really knows the system now. As far as his poise, he's a field general."
By season's end, chances are that Ezell will have all of FAMU's passing records, but don't expect him to take part in any elaborate celebrations. Nor will Ezell start discussing a possible quarterbacking career in the National Football League.
"Yeah, that would be nice, to get it all done this season," Ezell said of the records. "That's my goal, but it doesn't matter as much as winning games does."
EXELL'S RECORD WAYS
Florida A&M's junior quarterback holds eight school passing records. The others will come in time.
Atts 532 (2nd, 2 back)
Comps 251 (1st)
Yards 3,750 (2nd, 88 back)
TDs 31 (1st, tie)
Atts 203+ (2nd, 15 back)
Comps 98+ (2nd, 30 back)
Yards 1,595+ (2nd, 88 back)
TDs 13+ (2nd, 2 back)
Atts 38 (1st)
Comps 23 (1st)
Yards 478 (1st)
TDs 5 (1st)
Percentage 78.2 (1st)
Long pass 98 (1st)
+ _ 1990, through 7 games.
Florida A&M quarterback Tony Ezell is among the leading candidates for the Walter Payton Trophy, annually given to the best football player from Division I-AA schools. Here are some of the other contenders, with their current 1990 statistics.
Barry Bourassa, RB, New Hampshire
94 carries, 587 yards, 239 all-purpose yards a game.
Shawn Gregory, QB, Jackson State
102-for-229, 2,050 yards, 16 touchdowns.
Jamie Martin, QB, Weber State
185-of-305, 2,714 yards, 16 touchdowns.
Connell Maynor, QB, North Carolina A&T
68-of-107, 950 yards, nine touchdowns.
Markus Thomas, RB, Eastern Kentucky
121 carries, 640 yards, nine touchdowns.