When Jason David was 12 years old and eye-level with a fire hydrant - back when he weighed as much as a bag of leaves -- he decided it was time to introduce himself to his future high school football coach.
"I'm going up this ramp to the stadium for our game," Lou Farrar recalls, "and I see this little kid sitting on his bike. He was pulling on my shirt.
"I go, 'Hi, how are you?' He said, 'I want to play football for you. I want to be a football star.'
"He looked as big around as the tubing on his bike. I'm going, 'Yeah. OK.'"
Two years later, David was a 5-foot-1 benchwarmer on the freshman team at Charter Oak High in Covina, Calif. By his senior year, David was a first-team all-state running back and cornerback, the state player of the year in his division and headed to Washington State on scholarship as a 5-foot-8-inch, 150-pound cornerback.
"It makes me and our coaching staff warm to our heart to see that he's achieved things a kid dreams about," Farrar says.
David is still shockingly tiny for a major college cornerback -- he claims to be 5-9 and 175 pounds, which is highly suspect -- and that's only because he gained 10 pounds (originally 15) of muscle after practically moving into the WSU weight room in the off-season. Team managers, not to mention most autograph seekers, tower over David.
Size, it turns out, really doesn't matter in David's case. He played as a true freshman at WSU, moved into the starting lineup as a sophomore, ranked second in the nation in interceptions per game (.70) as a junior and tied for 10th in the nation this year with six interceptions in the regular season. And if WSU's tough defensive unit wants to corral the Longhorns at the Holiday Bowl, they'll need another big game from David and the WSU secondary.
"I love him," says Chris Ball, WSU's secondary coach before taking the same job at Alabama this year. "He's just done a great job. I'm sorry I couldn't coach him as a senior."
David won Ball over when "he just made play after play after play" as a freshman in practice. Still, David recalls Ball screaming at him at one early practice, "You'll never play in the Pac-10 at that size!"
"I told him," Ball clarifies, "'Unless you get in the weight room, you're going to be too small to play in this league.'"
David gradually gained strength and size, and he retained his superb speed, quickness and leaping ability. David says he's run the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds on artificial turf, a time that will catch the eye of NFL scouts no matter how small he is.
"He's one of our best athletes," Cougar linebacker Scott Davis adds.
"His quickness is so phenomenal," says Farrar, who proudly claims that David has phoned him or son Dominic (Charter Oak's offensive coordinator) from the locker room after every game he's played at WSU. David provides inspiration and guidance to Charter Oak players when he visits his old high school, Farrar says.
David made the All-Pacific-10 Conference first team this year after breaking school records for career interception return yards (318), career interception returns for touchdowns (three) and interceptions returns for touchdowns in one season (two). His 16 career interceptions and 144 interception return yards this season rank second in school history, and his seven interceptions last season is tied for third. Last year, he set a school record by intercepting passes in six straight games.
"He's a good gambler," WSU defensive coordinator Robb Akey says. "This year, he's doing a better of job of picking when there are going to be chances to take."
"His quickness and his competiveness -- that's what sets him apart," WSU secondary coach Ken Greene says. "He has fun out there, but he works hard. He wants to succeed."
David says his mother and sister taught him everything he needed to know about hard work and success. David was 4 years old and living in his native Edmonton, Alb., when his mother left his father (with whom David has a strained relationship), packed up the kids and a few bare essentials and made a new life for the family in California.
"She's strong, man," David says with a smile. "She made us happy. We all lived in one bedroom when we first got down there. My mom worked so hard."
"A tremendous lady," Ball says. "She's something special."
"She is, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful women or parents you will ever meet," Farrar agrees. "Between his sister and his mom, they took care of Jason."
It was older sister Jonquil, now dabbling in professional track after starring in the sprints at Sacramento State, who talked Jason into sticking with football after his freshman year of high school. A seven-inch growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore years also helped, although David still can't believe Charter Oak's frosh football coaches often left their 5-foot-1 dynamo on the sidelines.
"I was good!" he pleads with his omnipresent smile.
Indeed, David is forever in good cheer, a young man who has never met a noun, verb or adjective he did not cherish. He trash-talks opponents unmercifully ("I'll get into your head"), but his upbeat personality and sense of humor makes him one of the most popular Cougars in the locker room.
"Despite his size, he makes up for it with his big mouth," Davis jokes.
"You can't help but love him," Greene says. "He's full of energy, and he's funny."
"He's one of the best," Farrar says. "You wish they could all be like that."
Hollywood Bowl Stats -- When: 5 pm, Tuesday, Dec. 30 (ESPN cable television, KXLY 920 AM and other Cougar Radio Network outlets)
Where: Qualcomm Stadium (capacity 69,000), San Diego, Calif.
Teams: Texas (Big 12 Conference); Washington State (Pacific-10 Conference)
Records: Texas 10-2 overall, 7-1 Big 12 South (2nd); Washington State 9-3 overall, 6-2 Pac-10 (2nd)
National rankings: Texas 5th in Associated Press poll (media), 5th in USA Today/ESPN poll (coaches); Washington State 15th in AP poll, 14th in coaches poll
Texas stars: Weakside linebacker Derrick Johnson, a consensus first-team All-American, leads the Longhorns with 116 total tackles, 75 solo tackles and 18 tackles for a loss. All-time leading Texas receiver Roy Williams has team highs of 61 receptions, 982 receiving yards and eight touchdown catches. Running back Cedrick Benson ranks among the national leaders with 1,277 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns (20 rushing). Quarterback Vince Young, a redshirt freshman who has started the last six games, has passed for 1,140 yards and six touchdowns and rushed for 948 yards and 11 TDs. Cornerback Nathan Vasher joined Williams and offensive guard Tillman Holloway on the Associated Press All-America third team (Johnson made the first team; no Cougars were honored by AP).
WSU stars: Free safety Erik Coleman tied for the Pac-10 lead in the regular season with seven interceptions. Drew Dunning, who broke WSU's career and single-season scoring records this season, tied for first in the nation in the regular season with 27 field goals (out of 30 attempts). Strongside linebacker Will Derting leads the team with 61 solo tackles. Defensive end D.D. Acholonu is first on the Cougars with 18 tackles for a loss, 13 1/2 quarterback sacks and 11 quarterback hurries. Quarterback Matt Kegel ranks eighth in school history with 2,744 passing yards this season despite missing most of the last three games with a sore shoulder.
When Texas has the ball: The 6-foot, 215-pound Benson is a quick, punishing runner. Young might be more dangerous running than passing; he has one more interception (seven) than touchdown passes. Cornerback Jason David (5-8, 175) is generally regarded as WSU's best one-on-one defender, but the Cougars have usually lined up Karl Paymah (6-0, 198) against big, standout receivers like the 6-4, 210-pound Williams.
When WSU has the ball: The Cougars' inconsistent offense struggled even more down the stretch when Kegel was limited by injuries. Devard Darling and Sammy Moore are fleet, big-play receivers, but Kegel's once-mighty right arm might be too sore to throw the deep ball effectively.
Keys for Texas: Young needs to pass enough to prevent Cougar defenders from focusing all their attention on Benson. Johnson can blitz, stuff the run and defend the pass, but he's been known to take a play off occasionally.
Keys for WSU: If Kegel shows he can throw the deep ball, it will stretch a Texas defense that rarely sees a spread offense like the Cougars'. WSU ranks among the national leaders in takeaways, interceptions, sacks and blitzes, and Arkansas blitzed Texas effectively in one of the Longhorns' two losses.
Numbers game: During the regular season, Texas ranked fourth in the nation with 42.8 points per game, and fifth in rushing with 241.0 yards per game. WSU's defense ranked sixth against the run (87.5) and in passing efficiency rating (97.9).
Texas trivia: The Longhorns won three national championships from 1963-70, but haven't won a conference championship since 1996.
WSU trivia: The Cougars are 0-2 all-time against Texas, losing 40-14 in 1954 and 41-8 in 1961. Both games were played in Austin, Texas.
Historical fact No. 1: WSU's previous Holiday Bowl appearance, a 38-36 loss to Brigham Young in 1981, marked WSU's first bowl game since a 24-0 Rose Bowl loss to Alabama in 1931.
Historical fact No. 2: In 1954, WSU senior fullback Duke Washington became the first black to play at Texas' stadium. The Longhorns tried to block him from playing, but WSU officials said the Cougars would not play without Washington. Still, he had to stay separate from the team in a "colored" hotel in Austin. Many Texas fans gave Washington a standing ovation when he scored a touchdown.