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UTAH'S ABRAMS HAS MADE A CAREER OF BATTLING BACK

On a day dedicated to remembering the hard-nosed players and teams that started the Utah-Utah State football rivalry on its way 100 years ago, along came Steve Abrams as a reminder that even if this is the age of motors, computers, drive-through dry cleaners, microwave ovens, face-guards, full-ride scholarships and valet parking, there are still players who know how to fasten on a chinstrap and overcome adversity.

In case you missed it - and there were a lot of people who did on a perfect football Saturday that saw just 18,177 people file into USU's Romney Stadium - Utah defeated Utah State 42-18 largely because Abrams decided enough was enough and started hauling in touchdown passes in the second half.Abrams caught 45- and 22-yard scoring passes from quarterback Frank Dolce within an eight-minute span midway through the second half. His first score gave the Utes a 20-12 lead and his second, after a successful two-point conversion, negated an Aggie touchdown and staked them to a 28-18 advantage that was never threatened.

Abrams did both of the above even though he did not start at fullback, he was coming off a four-carry, 17-yard performance in last week's opening loss to Nebraska; and, speaking of meager statistics and tough situations, he was coming off a 1991 season that saw him carry the ball just 44 times for 190 yards as he suffered through a rash of demotions and injuries, both physical and psychological.

But there the Utes were in Logan, in jeopardy of doing the same thing they did in the inaugural game of the rivalry a hundred years ago - namely, lose - and there was Abrams, helping to bail them all out.

"What I think happened in the second half was they might have forgotten running backs could catch the ball," said Abrams modestly. "We adjusted at halftime and decided we'd pass more.

"We'd gotten to the point where

we were fed up," added the senior fullback from Danville in Northern California.

By all accounts, that's when Abrams is at his best. As Ute assistant coach Sean McNabb says, "his specialty is battling back. He sets the tone for that around here."

At Utah, Abrams has made a career of battling back. Just being in uniform for his senior season is proof of that.

Last year was not what Abrams had dreamed about. After a sophomore season in 1990 that saw him lead all Ute rushers with 551 yards, he lost most of his carries to newcomer Keith Williams. Personal tragedy also struck when his father, Leonard Abrams, died of a heart attack during training camp.

To cap off the adversity, Abrams came down with mononucleosis and had to sit out most of the 9th, 10th and 11th games of the season.

Only an off-the-bench-and-mono performance in the 12th and final game salvaged something out of the season. Abrams caught four passes for 42 yards and rushed for another 45 yards against BYU in the regular season finale.

He came back for his senior season in the shadow not only of Williams and tailback Charlie Brown but also transplanted defensive back Henry Lusk and junior college transfers Pierre Jones and Jamal Anderson. All of whom had decent spring and August camps. One thing that was obvious when the Utes broke for the '92 season - there would be no dearth of hands anxious to take a handoff from Dolce.

Abrams, a tireless conditioner who bench presses 365 pounds and squats 530 pounds, had only one game plan: to hustle every time, all the time. And to remember the lessons his dad taught him.

"He showed me a lot about how to persevere and handle adversity," says Abrams. "I think about that whenever I'm playing. All I'm trying to do is hustle 100 percent."

Which is what he did Saturday against an Aggie team that hung on through two and a half quarters.

"Abrams has the ability to make the plays, and he made them," said McBride, who shook his head in admiration.

"Every school I've coached at, we've had a guy like him," said the coach. "You go out and recruit guys to replace him - and then they don't replace him."