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Being the best doesn't necessarily mean Iowa State wide...

By RICK GOSSELIN, UPI Sports Writer

Being the best doesn't necessarily mean Iowa State wide receiver Tracy Henderson is the best.

Coach Jim Criner started a tradition at Iowa State last season of awarding a red helmet to the players his coaching staff felt were the best at their respective positions in the Big Eight. Six Cyclones wore the red helmets by the end of the 1983 season; the rest of the team wore the traditional yellow helmets.

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Henderson was awarded a red helmet in the final week of October and finished the season with more catches than any wide receiver in the nation -- 81, for a school-record 1,051 yards and eight touchdowns.

Henderson had the most controversial red helmet because that meant the Iowa State coaches felt he was the best wide receiver in the Big Eight. Better than Irving Fryar, who went on to earn first-team All-America honors at Nebraska and was the first player selected in the 1984 NFL draft.

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Henderson is back for his junior season and, after three games, leads the nation in receiving with 30 catches for 531 yards and three touchdowns. The only other receiver even close to his yardage total is Illinois' David Williams, who has 495 yards in four games.

But Henderson isn't wearing a red helmet yet.

'I don't need to be singled out (by wearing a red helmet) at this point,' Henderson said. 'I've got enough people (defenders) looking for me as it is. There's a time and place for everything.'

Henderson was spectacular in a losing cause last week. He caught 11 passes for 217 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown, in a 38-17 loss at Texas A & M.

'If you want to see the best receiver in the country,' Texas A&M Coach Jackie Sherrill said, 'you just have to come and see Tracy Henderson. He's unbelievable.'

But Criner was less impressed.

'Tracy still makes a lot of mistakes,' Criner said. 'He needs to correct some things. He still makes some incorrect reads on routes. It (Texas A & M) was a good game for him but he's capable of much better.'

Henderson isn't the only Big Eight player holding a lofty national ranking. Nebraska tailback Jeff Smith is third in rushing with an average of 158.7 yards per game and also leads the nation in punt returns with an average of 20.7 yards per his eight runbacks. Rod Brown of Oklahoma State ranks third nationally in interceptions with four and his teammate, Larry Roach, is third in field goals with eight...

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The Big Eight is 13-11 in nonconference play this season with Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State all 3-0. Colorado, at the other end of the spectrum, is 0-3 ... and the future doesn't look too promising for the Buffaloes with UCLA scheduled for Saturday.

'We've got to go back to work,' Colorado Coach Bill McCartney said. 'Unrelenting. Persevering. Hard work, no short cuts. We're a young program and team. I think we'll back up and fight.'

The Big Eight will have a nationally televised football game Saturday for the third consecutive weekend. Television showed Oklahoma at Pittsburgh two weeks ago and Nebraska at UCLA last weekend. This Saturday, Missouri will host Notre Dame on national television.

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