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Ready to rumble

With Daunte Culpepper gone, ex-Pirate Page Sessoms will play a key role for UCF.

You are a running back. Therefore, it is easy to get lost among the expansive shoulder pads and hulking figures of your teammates.

But for Page Sessoms, that is just not so. It is picture day at the Citrus Bowl for the University of Central Florida, and Sessoms moves through the crowd and is easy to find. Just follow the biceps hanging out of the No. 35 jersey.

For those who remember Sessoms as the slashing running back and big-hitting defensive back from his days as a star at Pasco High from 1991-94, the '99 version is in stark contrast.

Now a plowing 6-foot, 230-pound fullback who just happens to have great speed, Sessoms just gets bigger and bigger, his physique now resembling a professional wrestler's rather than the lithe tailback many remember.

Last year, former Pasco assistant Andy Siegal raved about his favorite former player, pointing to a picture on his desk and asking, "Have you seen this guy lately? Have you seen his guns?"

Note to Siegal: Have you seen Sessoms this season?

Bigger. Stronger. Ready to knock someone's block off.

In high school, he was the guy the coach wanted to score.

These days, Sessoms is the guy who makes holes for the guy whom the coach wants to score.

Entering his senior season at UCF, Sessoms is the starting fullback as the Golden Knights prepare for life without Daunte Culpepper and for its toughest schedule ever.

All the talk has focused on Culpepper's absence, of course, but UCF's loss could turn out to be Sessoms' gain. With the Knights set to run the ball more, Sessoms' skills as a blocker will be on display. And who knows, he might even get a call or two in short-yardage situations to carry the ball.

"I'd really like to carry the ball, sure," Sessoms said. "But if I don't that's fine. I'll always be an offensive player at heart. I miss it."

That is, after all, how they remember the sandy-haired, sleepy-eyed Sessoms in Dade City. A slashing back who mixed power in his running, Sessoms gained almost 800 yards rushing and averaged 12.7 yards a carry his senior season in '94 despite playing in the shadow of star Troy Hambrick. He also picked off seven passes while earning Class 3A first-team all-state honors.

Sessoms was recruited by UCF as a defensive back in '95 and was converted to running back shortly thereafter. But at the same time he was being converted, the record-setting Culpepper was becoming a star. The offense was soon built around the pass and the shotgun, and despite an impressive debut against Georgia Tech in '96, Sessoms found his ball-carrying opportunities melting under a flood of Culpepper completions.

"It was very hard at first," Sessoms said. "But my dad (Jim), he helped me get through that. It was an extremely frustrating time for me."

Last year, Sessoms' days as a yard-gainer officially came to an end. He did not carry the ball and found playing time to be scarce due to new coach Mike Kruczek's offense, which relied more on one-back sets than I-formations.

Now that Culpepper is gone, Sessoms said he hopes he can carry the ball more (he has five career carries for 15 yards). But he knows that chances are, he won't. UCF has returning starter Edward Mack and signed junior college player of the year Terrance Williams, who ran for 3,000-plus yards in two years at Hinds Community College.

His days as a game-breaker and playmaker over, Sessoms is content to focus on his blocking skills. He is committed to the weight room, no surprise to those who recall his state weightlifting championship in '94.

In post-spring testing, he tied wide receiver Kenny Clark for the team lead in the vertical jump at 36 inches, was second on the entire team with a bench press of 410 pounds and was third in the broad jump. Among running backs, his 450-pound squat was tops.

It is that combination of power, athleticism and speed that could make Sessoms the second player off that '92 state championship team at Pasco to be drafted by the NFL. He said scouts from Carolina, among others in the NFL, have talked to him about playing professionally, and he feels confident he will get his shot.

"I just want to have a good season," Sessoms said. "If that means opening holes, that's what I'll do.

"It would be nice to get a few carries, but I'm going to try and do what the team needs me to do. I'm a team player, and if things work out for the team, who knows?"