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Ranks at the top will be thinned today

Four years ago, people who knew Lawrence Phillips figured he would be running from California authorities, not running for the Heisman Trophy.

Nebraska's sophomore I-back has come a long way since his troubled early teenage days of running the streets in Inglewood, El Monte and West Covina, Calif.

Today, he'll be running for No. 3 Nebraska against No. 2 Colorado and star running back Rashaan Salaam.

Phillips has rushed for 1,233 yards and 12 touchdowns this season and has averaged 6.7 yards. He ran himself into Heisman contention with eight straight 100-yard-plus games for Nebraska (8-0).

He used to run from school, discipline and authority.

In seventh grade, courts decided that the often-truant Phillips had to attend school and placed him first in a boys home in El Monte, then in a similar home in West Covina, just down the street from an aunt.

In West Covina, Phillips met Baldwin Park High School coach Tony Zane. Phillips said he wanted to play football, and Zane soon discovered a talent.

Phillips was barely eligible academically and had taken few core courses required by colleges, Zane said. That changed, and so did Phillips' attitude.

Zane, assistant principal Ty Pagone and his wife, Christine, directed Phillips, counseled him, picked him up in the morning to take him to school and chewed him out when he needed it.

"I guess my sophomore year was when I started getting serious about school," Phillips said.

Phillips was a Southern Cal fan, but coaching changes at USC turned him off. Nebraska called and convinced Phillips that a move to the Midwest might help him get his life in order.

It has worked better than Phillips could have hoped.

As a true freshman last fall, he stepped in for injured Calvin Jones and rushed for 139 yards against UCLA in a 14-13 victory. He finished with 508 yards on 92 carries for the season, third-best in school history for a freshman.

Up next:GAME DAY