Whenever the talk about a promising freshman football player soared off into rapturous heights at Illinois, veteran Coach Bob Zuppke had a way of bringing it back to earth. "That boy," he would point out, "ain't gained a yard yet for the varsity."
Most head coaches still feel that way—in public. But no one, even in the Big Ten where the freshmen do not play games, can stop the old grads from bubbling with anticipation over a particularly splendid prospect. In the season just past, old grads from coast to coast had a lot to bubble about. Herewith a report from SI correspondents on the impressive class of '59:
West Coast. Around the nation the rich were getting richer and nowhere was it more evident than on the Pacific Coast—which is another way of saying UCLA had its best freshman football team since 1937. This made the future especially black for other conference schools because Coach Red Sanders historically has dragooned his varsity juggernauts from the ranks of the junior colleges and has paid only superficial attention to his frosh team. Now there are indications that he has an integrated football factory and the watchword for the rest of the league is sauve-qui-peut, which is French for "Don't schedule UCLA if you can get Idaho." The prime reason for an unbeaten season for the little Bruins was a Beverly Hills tailback who proved to be a kind of rookie Ronnie Knox. His name is Donie Long and he threw six touchdown passes and ran for three more in three games. UCLA also had an outstanding pass-catching end in Dick Wallen and a fine varsity line prospect in chunky Guard Clint Whitfield. Southern Cal had no really first-rate line prospects (which is where the critical Trojan shortage will occur next fall) but did have two terrific running backs (with which the varsity is already loaded) in Rex Johnston and Tony Ortega.
—JAMES MURRAY, LOS ANGELES
At California they converted a big basketball player named Joe Kapp into a really capable T formation quarterback and are already booming 235-pound Tackle Don DiRienzo as a future All-America. But the big news on the Coast, besides UCLA, was College of Pacific's incomparable Dick Bass (SI, Nov. 22, '54). On Bass, statistics will suffice: COP played three games, won all three and Bass scored 10 of the 11 touchdowns. He ran 29, 30 and 52 yards for scores against the Fresno State Frosh; 85 and 57 against San Jose, and 59, 58 and 34 against San Francisco State.
—DICK POLLARD, SAN FRANCISCO
January 23, 1956
Rocky Mountains. Utah's freshmen haven't lost a game in two years and Skyline Conference coaches agree they appear to be the best around. Best of the frosh crop was a slick 175-pound quarterback named Pete Haun who will almost surely be leading the Ute varsity next fall. If there was another team in the league with equal ability, it was over on the other side of the mountains at New Mexico where an estimated dozen freshmen, headed by a brilliant running back named Anthony Gray, will move right into varsity jobs. But the Air Force Academy (which beat all its five Skyline Conference opponents except Utah—and lost to all three of its Big Seven opponents) may have the best material in the area. No. 1 for the fledgling Falcons was George Klutinoty, a quarterback from Pennsylvania who earned the praise of Oklahoma Coach Norman McNabb as "the best back on the field" despite Air Force's 48-12 loss to the souped-up young Sooners. The rest of the Skyline area had to be content with discovering some great young individual prospects, one being Wyoming's 235-pound Bob Houser, called by Air Force Coach Bob Whitlow "the best tackle I've seen."
—ED OGLE, DENVER
The Southwest. The recruiting trouble which caused Texas A&M all its problems last fall centered on the 1955 freshman team Coach Paul Bryant had rounded up somewhat overindustriously. By season's end, A&M was convinced of one thing: they were worth it. The little Aggies were edged out of the unofficial conference championship by Rice and SMU but wound up by showing exceptional balance and two real standouts in Quarterback Luther Hall, a converted fullback, and End Don Usrey, one of the finest all-round athletes in Texas schoolboy history. SMU produced an accomplished split-T quarterback named Larry Click, who should be ready to take over for graduating SMU Varsity Quarterback John Roach, several hard-running halfbacks and half a dozen 1956 varsity candidates in the line. Rice, which toppled badly last year because of lack of speed, has apparently found a solution down in the freshman backfield; speedsters G. F. Alsbrook and Dan Shuford. Baylor didn't win the first-year title but almost surely had the South west's best lineman: Charles Horton, a 220-pound tackle from Waco who, they say, can't miss being All-America by 1958. And the University of Texas, with one of its weaker freshman teams, still had Vince Matthews, who may be only the best passer in the Southwest since Sammy Baugh. But not all Texas high school players enrolled in Texas colleges; as usual some went to play for Oklahoma's Bud Wilkinson, the greatest border raider since Pancho Villa. Oklahoma, the national champion, loses only six members of its first three teams by graduation and appears to need help about as bad as the Brooklyn Dodgers, but help is on the way just the same—which is undoubtedly why Wilkinson always wins. The Sooner frosh were unbeaten and had brilliant performers in Jakie Sandefer, a halfback from Breckenridge, Texas who averaged 10.3 yards a carry, and Quarterback Lonnie Holland from Plainview, Texas who completed over half his passes and ran for three touchdowns.
—TEX MAULE, DALLAS
South. A look at the Atlantic Coast Conference freshman record makes one wonder again why Jim Tatum left Maryland for North Carolina. The best freshman team in the entire South? Why, Maryland, of course. The worst? Very possibly North Carolina. Yet Maryland, even with its first undefeated freshman team in history, didn't rank too far ahead of some others. North Carolina State, for example, expects to graduate five members to starting varsity jobs next year; Duke, for another, which had a massive line that may have to move right into first-string shoes to protect varsity graduation losses and appears perfectly capable of handling the job; and Clemson, which had a mediocre record but some brilliant individual prospects. Over in the Southeast Conference, the material was at least as good. Georgia lost a game but had the most crunchingly powerful freshman team in the league and the best at the school since the 1939 Frankie Sinkwich yearlings used to push the Georgia varsity all over the field. Mississippi State was unbeaten in its three games and had a tremendous backfield; Auburn was so-so as a team but possessed some outstanding individuals, an item of much greater importance to a head coach, who seldom worries about frosh won-lost records as long as replacements are produced in reasonable numbers for his graduating varsity. From this host of good football teams in the South came a tidal wave of future all-stars. But the best appeared to be Halfback Tommy Lorino of Auburn, blessed with lightning speed and shiftiness, one of the most fabulous high school football players the state of Alabama has ever produced; Bob Sedlock, a 17-year-old giant who weighs 252 pounds, can move fast and will play tackle for Georgia; Carl Smith, a 200-pound fullback who scored 47 touchdowns his senior year in high school, put in a service hitch and then had 25 college and three professional offers before deciding upon Tennessee; Clemson's Rudy Hayes, a 220-pound halfback who can run the 100 in 10 flat; King Dixon, the pride of South Carolina, who brought praise from opposing coaches and ran kick-offs back 93 and 92 yards; and Maryland's impressive pair, Ted Kershner, a 170-pound halfback with great speed, and Al Beardsley, lauded by Tatum as the finest freshman defensive end he has ever seen—at least that's what he said when he was still at Maryland.
—LEE GRIGGS, ATLANTA
East. The records show that about the best freshman team in the East was at Annapolis and Coach Eddie Erdelatz can expect some varsity help next fall from a group which won five and lost only to Maryland. Best of the lot were a 220-pound converted back named Bob Reifsnyder who was moved to tackle, 200-pound Fullback Fred Long and little breakaway runner Richard Dagampat. Army's plebes had a 4-1 record but most important to Coach Earl Blaik, they showed two very promising quarterbacks—both left-handed and both from Michigan—Pete Dawkins and Charles Darby. One of them will be running the varsity next fall. The outstanding player on the team, however, was Bill Rowe, a center.
Pitt's freshmen didn't have an impressive record (two losses, two ties) but the team presents food for thought. Back in the days of Jock Sutherland, most of the players came from western Pennsylvania. For years now, the best of the home-grown crop has been going elsewhere; or they were until last fall when Coach John Michelosen proved again he could profit by the teachings of his old coach and loaded up with boys from the Pittsburgh area. Now Pitt is back in the national picture and some of the 1955 fledglings figure to help keep them there. Best of these was 180-pound Quarterback Bill Kaliden.
The Ivy League, which abolished pressure-recruiting in hopes of achieving a nice balance, appears to be succeeding: it was the one section of the country where the have-nots came up with the best freshmen. Harvard, Dartmouth, Brown and Penn picked up some fine prospects while Princeton, Yale and Cornell, conference leaders the past few years, showed little gain. Only Columbia of the have-nots still hasn't. The most talked about player was Brown's Jack McTigue, a 170-pounder who is rated an outstanding runner and kicker and who will get a chance to show his varsity capabilities early—the top eight Brown backs of 1955 are to graduate. Harvard gets help where it is needed most, in the line, particularly from 240-pound Pete Briggs and 225-pound Bob Shaughnessy. At Dartmouth, they are looking forward to three years of watching Jim Burke, a 185-pound halfback who three times ran back punts for over 85 yards, and Dave Lawrence, a 248-pound tackle. Another standout was Hal Musick, called the best passer and punter seen at Penn since Reds Bagnell.
—PAUL ABRAMSON, NEW YORK
Midwest. Neither the Big Ten teams nor Notre Dame played freshman games but there was a suspicion, nevertheless, that a few football players were lurking around. In fact the word was out that the crop was so good even Zuppke might have managed a sly grin of anticipation. Again the haves—Ohio State, Michigan State and Notre Dame—appeared to lead the rest. The Ohio State freshman line outweighed the varsity last fall and the only bigger one belonged to Michigan State; there, 14 of Duffy Daugherty's yearling linemen weighed over 220 pounds. The best of the lot appeared to be a stripling linebacker of 210 named Francis O'Brien, and a tiny little halfback only 5 feet 4 in height and weighing 149 pounds. His name is Henny Young and although he may never be as good as his famous brother Buddy (Illinois, '47), if he just comes close, that should be enough.
At Indiana they're calling Willie Jones the most promising breakaway back since George Taliaferro, and Illinois is going to be well set with its best freshman team in years moving up to varsity status. Two of the best are Tackle Ron Nietupski, already causing heartburn among Big Ten coaches, and Fullback Jack Delveaux, who runs like a man among boys. And at Michigan, where Freshman Coach Wally Weber demands his lads hit so hard that "generations yet unborn will feel the shock," the freshman who shook up the future the most was Fullback John Hernstein, who may be the line-plunger Michigan so badly needs.
Terry Brennan at Notre Dame admits that his 1955 freshman crop looked a little better than its recent predecessors and that a couple of them might turn out to be football players. One is a spectacular end named Bob Wetoska, the other a big, bruising tackle named Bronco Nagurski Jr.
—DICK BOETH, CHICAGO