EL DORADO Comparisons are as natural as a dive play on first-and-goal from the one, but Michael Cosey would just as soon avoid them.
Comparisons, that is.
"I'd really like for people to just look at me as Michael, but some of them can't do that," Cosey says.
Someday they'll might well be able to think of Michael Cosey as Michael, the way they now think of Barry Sanders as just Barry. But Cosey yet hasn't made a widespread name for himself.
He's known around Lawrence as the all-time leading rusher in Lawrence High history.
He's known around Kansas as the two-time consensus all-state running back who led the Lions to a 22-1 record and two of their three consecutive Class 6A state championships as a starter.
And now he's known around the region as the Fort Scott Community College freshman who has gained over 100 yards in each of the four games he's played and is fast becoming the Greyhounds' go-to guy.
BUT HE HAS yet to have national exposure. He has yet to become a household name, so, naturally, he is compared to one.
And that name is almost always Barry Sanders.
"When people compare me, I don't pay any attention," Cosey says. "I'm Michael. I've gotta do what I've gotta do. He's Barry. He's done what he did."
Even Jack Welch, Cosey's junior college coach, invoked Sanders' name when asked, but with a disclaimer.
"The biggest comparison is Barry Sanders," Welch said. "But let me say this: Michael Cosey doesn't have to compare to anybody. He'll be known all of his life."
As hard as it is to play as a freshman at a Div. I-A institution, Cosey might still be on his way to national acclaim now if not for Proposition 48.
HE WAS, let's say, highly sought out of high school. He was contacted by and considering all the Big Eight schools except Iowa State, as well as Miami, Fla., Tennessee, West Virginia, Notre Dame and UCLA.
"My choices were there," he said. "It was wide open for me. All I needed was my test score."
Cosey, whose high school grade point average qualified him under NCAA rules, made no recruiting visits. He was waiting until he achieved the NCAA standard of 17 on his ACT.
He never did.
"When I didn't get my test score I was so hurt," he said. "I was heartbroken. I had my eyes set on going to a university. I didn't want to go to junior college."
When it became clear that a four-year school was out of the question, the Cosey family discussed Michael's prospects and picked Fort Scott. At the time, he was one of three high-profile Kansas backs headed there, the other two being Garden City's Richard De La Rosa and Riverton's Andy Ball.
DE LA ROSA never made it to Fort Scott, and Ball quit the team, leaving Cosey teamed primarily with Maurice French, a 5-9, 185-pound freshman from Miami, Fla.
"I don't think there's a better running back in the league than (Cosey or French)," Welch said. "Brian Grimes at Hutchinson is a great back, and Butler (County) has Costello Good, but I wouldn't trade anybody for my two."
Cosey has adjusted to junior college football despite a nagging back injury he suffered while high jumping last spring. He missed the fourth quarter of Fort Scott's opener against Air Force Prep and all of the following game. He undergoes daily therapy for the injury, which doctors say will recover completely.
He's excelled, he says, because he began the transition from high school to college football early.
"I STARTED getting ready in high school to do what I knew I'd have to do in college," he says. "I knew I had to run harder in college, and toward the end of high school I was doing that."
He also gained weight and strength. Listed at 175 in the Lawrence High program, Cosey finished his senior season playing at 178. He's now at 184.
After four games, Cosey has 559 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 81 carries. In the Greyhounds' 24-21 loss to Butler County last Saturday, he also caught four passes for 43 yards.
Cosey does it all for the Greyhounds. He's now a full-timer on the punt- and kickoff-return teams. He lines up in a split-back set and as the tailback in the I-formation. He's even a wideout at times.
"He needs to have the football in his hands," Welch said. "We need to get the football into his hands. When he has it he makes things happen."
COSEY'S MOST striking trait is his ability to make a gainer out of a play that looks sure to be stopped for a loss.
"You can have him stopped in the backfield and he'll get four or five yards," Welch said. I've never seen anybody like him."
Cosey sees holes that mere mortals don't according to Dick Purdy, who coached him for two years at Lawrence High.
"If you are one of the great ones, you do things because it's a natural thing to do," Purdy said. "A lot of those great ones will say, `Can't you see that?' and a normal guy will say, `No, I can't.'"
Cosey maintained his humility throughout his ultra-successful high school career, and that hasn't changed. He knows he's a cut above many players, and he matter-of-factly explains why.
"I've got vision," he said. "I see everything. That's how I determine my cuts and all. If I see I can't cut, that's when I lower my head and go straight ahead. You have some running backs who can shake and can't use the power running game. I use all my game. I can shake and run hard and catch and use my blocks. That's what makes me a good running back."
COACHES SAY more strength and quickness will make Cosey almost unstoppable.
"He's a 200-pound college back as a junior," Purdy predicted. "He'll probably be over 190 by spring. It depends on how hard he works."
Work has been no problem for Cosey so far, and he doesn't expect it to be.
"I want to play in the NFL. That's my goal," he said. "I take football serious wherever I am, really serious. That's what I've been doing all my life. I like it, and I'm serious about it."