Just about this time each fall America's less fortunate football coaches may be found slouched in their office chairs, staring glaze-eyed through a window at a stadium soon to be bursting with pennant-waving, victory-hungry alumni. At intervals they shudder. It is safe to guess that they are shuddering at the thought of the opening game. The thought shapes up like this: "They'll never understand. They just don't realize how much experience we've lost. Twenty-two lettermen—and who's going to be playing in their places? Who's going to be my quarterback and my defensive ends? Sophomores! That's who. Sophomores..." Yes, it is usually the sophomores who bring a coach's heart to his throat with those off-target blocks, line-drive punts and long, wobbly passes. But still each year there are an exciting few newcomers who play football as if they were born in the bright new game jerseys that they are wearing for the first time. Here are five of this year's very special sophomores.
GLEN HALSELL, TEXAS
Darrell Royal can't wait to turn Linebacker Glen Halsell loose against USC so that Halsell can start knocking enemy heads together instead of those of his teammates. A stubby 200-pounder, Halsell is in the tradition of the great Longhorn linebackers of the past. "You sort of feel 'em behind you," says Halsell. "Pat Culpepper, Timmy Doerr, Nobis, Edwards...Ever since I got here the idea kept pushing me that I was filling some mighty big shoes."
Halsell, just like Joel Brame, who will play alongside him, has an insatiable desire to ram his head between the jersey numbers of anybody carrying a football. "You got to be tough," Halsell says. "I mean, really think about it. Joel is my idol. Against Rice last year he got his nose laid open to the bone, but he never came out of the game. It was so bad he's going to need plastic surgery."
Halsell, who comes from Odessa, Texas, has a neck that measures 17½ inches, √† la Tommy Nobis, and has been clocked in 5.7 seconds for the 50-yard dash. The only thing he must learn is patience. Sometimes he is too anxious to get into the action. "The hardest thing for me is playing my position," he says. "I can't go running off after the ball until I'm sure what's going to happen." Royal doesn't seem too worried about that.
RICH SAUL, MICHIGAN STATE
There are certain uniform numbers that Ken Earley, the Michigan State equipment manager, hoards until somebody special comes along. Numbers like 14 (Billy Wells, Lynn Chandnois) and 26 (Clarence Peaks, Herb Adderley, Clinton Jones). You don't give them out to just anybody. No. 88 is one of those numbers. In past years it has been worn by Bob Carey and Sammy Williams, both All-Americas. This fall it will go to Rich Saul, a 6'3", 222-pound defensive end whom Duffy Daugherty says is the best sophomore he has ever had at Michigan State. This is quite a thing to say, but Saul is quite a thing to say it about.
Saul comes from the right background to merit such esteem. His big brother, Bill, was an All-America at Penn State and now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Twin brother Ron is a promising guard for the Spartans. The thing they all do best is hit, and Rich looks like the family slugging champion.
Saul was a teammate of Terry Hanratty's at Butler High School in Pennsylvania and. while Butler was winning 26 of 27 games during his three years at end, he made All-State and High School All-America twice. College scouts clustered around the Saul house like so many 'Bama linebackers after a ballcarrier, but by the time Rich was one of the outstanding players in the Texas-Pennsylvania high school All-Star game he had decided upon Michigan State. He was co-captain of the MSU freshman team last year, made a fine showing throughout the spring and next week will be the only sophomore in the starting lineup as the Spartans open against Houston, whose All-America halfback, Warren McVea, will quickly test how good he really is. "Rich can do it all," says Cal Stoll, an MSU assistant, sounding like every coach who ever touted a sophomore whiz. But this time the assessment may be right.
VINCE OPALSKY, MIAMI
Sixty colleges thought Vince Opalsky was going to be a spectacular running back someday, and now Miami is ready to enjoy the reason why. Head Coach Charlie Tate has tried to soften the publicity buildup around his 6'2", 208-pound halfback, admitting only that "Vince has all the tools," but if the freshmen games are any indication, Hurricane opponents will be in for some rough evenings in the Orange Bowl. In four games last fall Opalsky carried for more yards (514) than any varsity regular did in 10 games, and already he is being compared to Don Bosseler, the Miami All-America who wound up with the Washington Redskins. At Serra Catholic High in McKeesport, Pa., Opalsky scored almost 300 points in three years and ran for more than 2,500 yards. He had a chance to go to Notre Dame but turned it down. "I figured I'd be just another number," he says. "I didn't have confidence then." But after a Miami recruiter watched Opalsky go 70 yards for a touchdown in his last high school game, he burst into the dressing room and cried. "Vince, that was a $12,000 run. That's what it will cost us to put you through Miami." It looks like money well spent
DON ABBEY, PENN STATE
Just before Penn State's spring game, Coach Joe Paterno said, "Don Abbey is so strong and tough and such a good field-goal kicker that we'll be a threat to score one way or the other anytime we get inside the 40-yard line." Paterno wasn't just humming the Penn State fight song, either. That afternoon Abbey, a 6'2", 225-pound sophomore fullback, ran for 102 yards, scored two touchdowns, kicked two extra points and made a 24-yard field goal that won the game with 30 seconds to go.
"Abbey is more advanced and has more potential than any sophomore we have had in a long time," says Paterno. The son of a dental surgeon, Abbey is a premed student. He almost went to Princeton, but decided upon Penn State because "I really wanted to find out how good I was at football." He will have a fine opportunity, for Penn State is out to regain its No. 1 ranking in the East, and Abbey plays a key part in its hopes.
JOE TASBY, IDAHO
At first glance it seems that Ray McDonald, Idaho's All-America fullback, has somehow moved out of the back-field and into the line. But not so. That big (6'3", 220 pounds) defensive end is Joe Tasby, an awesome defender who already ranks with the elite on the pros' preferred draft lists. Tasby is strong, agile and ominous. He can play either center or linebacker. As a linebacker on last year's Baby Vandal squad that won three of four games, he personally made 25% of the tackles. Tasby was such an outstanding prospect in Houston—he's another one from Bubba Smith land—that Coach Steve Musseau flew to Texas personally to convince him of the opportunity awaiting him in the Moscow Mountains. He plans to use Tasby both on offense and defense, which is one way to get six years of play out of a supersoph.
If Tasby and his four associates are the best, there are still other sophomores whose moves are about to become familiar ones. Among the most impressive of them are Fullback Ed Ziegler and Tackle Mike McCoy of Notre Dame, Quarterbacks Bob Anderson of Colorado, Rich Panczyszyn of Syracuse and Tom Blanchard of Oregon, Running Backs Tommy Wade of Alabama, Ted Koy of Texas and Russell Cody of Arkansas, Defensive Tackle Jim Hadley of Florida and Tight End Jim Mandich of Michigan.
THE PROS' PRESEASON PICKS FOR ALL-AMERICA
Before the action starts, pro scouts have a good idea of which players they want to
GARY BEBAN, UCLA
LOU HARRIS, Kent State
LARRY CSONKA, Syracuse
FLANKERS AND SPLIT' ENDS
JIM COX, Miami (Fla.)
RANDY BEHRINGER, Baylor
KEN BAREFOOT, Virginia Tech
JOE BLAKE, Tulsa
DANNY ABBOTT, Texas
ELVIN BETHEA, N. Carolina A&T