Of all the unvarying verities in the universe of college football, none is so rigid as the rule that no star may shine for more than three seasons. Yet, brief though this time is, few players manage to be in the spotlight more than a year or two. It takes them a year—that sophomore year—to attune their talents to the college game, to fit into their team, to take the place that their natural abilities merit. But there are always a few exciting ones who have it, whatever the it may be, right from the beginning. Coaches can sense when it is there, and few things please them as much as the discovery of a sophomore who promises to be a success for a glorious (and useful) three-year span. Here are this season's best.
There is a certain group at Pitt that has harbored high expectations for Ralph Cindrich. As a freshman wrestler last year, Cindrich, who is 6'2" and weighs 232, won 13 of his matches and lost only one. That's the stuff that NCAA wrestling champions are made of. Hooray for Cindrich. All of which is fine, but Football Coach Dave Hart is a wrestling buff, too, at least when the wrestling is being done by the best linebacking prospect Pitt has had in years. "He has the finest leadership qualities I've seen in any kid," says Hart, who already has sophomore Cindrich calling the team's defensive signals. Pitt's wrestler is from the coal town of Avella, where he earned a rating as one of Pennsylvania's top two high school linemen. (The other was a Pittsburgh boy, Lloyd Weston, who is also at Pitt and also a linebacker.) After riffling through a stack of scholarship offers, Cindrich decided to stay near home. "I thought if you're going to make a name for yourself, it's best to do it here rather than at Georgia or Michigan State or Purdue. And I have confidence in Coach Hart. I also think he liked the hot sausage my Mom served him." Cindrich has already had one touch of national fame. In 1966, in the annual game that matched Pennsylvania's best high schoolers against a Texas all—star squad, he made more than 40% of his team's tackles. Afterward, Texas Coach Bobby Layne called Cindrich "the best football player on the field."
September 8, 1968
On the first day of practice last spring Coach Doug Dickey assigned sturdy Chip Kell, who is 6' and 228 pounds, to play offensive tackle. Kell was fine at the tackle spot, but there were troubles right from the start in the Tennessee offense where the replacement Dickey had planned on for All—America Center Bob Johnson was in difficulty. So Dickey asked Kell to show the coaching staff what he could do at center. Kell, who had played the position at his Decatur, Ga. high school, showed plenty, and he has been the heir apparent to Bob Johnson since. In fact, Line Coach Ray Trail says, "Kell has the potential to be better than Johnson." It was in his Decatur days that Kell caught the eye of Tennessee Track Coach Chuck Rohe, who had seen him participate as a shot-putter as far back as his freshman year. Dickey did not notice Kell until a couple of seasons later, but he and Rohe eventually worked together to recruit him for Tennessee. This paid off for Rohe—at least for a while. Not only did Kell win the shotput title as a freshman at last winter's SEC track meet, he broke the conference record with a toss of 57'5¾". That done, Kell quit spring track to concentrate on football, and if Rohe was displeased, it is nothing compared to the annoyance ahead for every middle guard who now will have to pit himself against the Tennessee center who was an offensive tackle for just one springtime afternoon in Knoxville.
Just after Texas Coach Darrell Royal had finished a grueling recruiting campaign to woo Steve Worster (pronounced Wooster) away from 80 other colleges, someone asked him where he would play the young man. Without hesitation Royal replied, "He's like that 400—pound gorilla: he'll play wherever he likes to play." It's a good line, but presents a bad image of Worster, who at 6'1" and 207 pounds is more of a scatback than a monster. But he does like to play. So impressed was Royal with Worster's performance last spring that this was one reason Royal scrapped his I formation offense and rearranged things so that Worster, Fullback Ted Koy, Tailback Chris Gilbert and Quarterback Bill Bradley could be in the back-field at the same time. Worster's high school record was impressive, even by Texas measurements. He gained 5,422 yards, scored 79 touchdowns and 38 extra points and made a high school All—America team. His debut as a Texas freshman came in a game against Baylor last fall. Nothing much was expected of him, because he had been hospitalized shortly before the game with a high fever. Worster played, gained 182 yards and scored two touchdowns, one on a 53—yard run. Texas coaches are not given to wide—eyed accolades about their personnel, especially sophomores, but Worster is causing comment. Freshman Coach Bill Ellington recalls his changing impressions of Worster over the past year: "I had seen some films of him in high school, and I said on the basis of those that he was good but that I didn't think he could walk on water. Now? Well...?"
Coach Jerry Frei of the University of Oregon can see no need to equivocate about Split End Bob Newland. "He will be Oregon's next All-America," says Frei. Newland has the size (6'2", 193 pounds), the speed and, as Frei puts it, "the uncanny ability to change direction or turn quickly to catch a ball thrown behind him." All of these things are the normal attributes of an outstanding split end. What Newland also has is a fever for contact. "He loves to block," says Frei. "Let's face it—some split ends are just catchers. They have more finesse than physical courage. Not this kid. He's not shy. He's tough." Although Newland was a hot prospect in high school, Oregon had little trouble convincing him to enroll, largely because he went to North Eugene, just across town from the university. There he was a district champion low hurdler, a starting forward on a state championship basketball team and an All—State end as a senior, when he caught 47 passes for seven touchdowns. Newland is expected to breathe some much needed life into the Oregon offense. On last year's freshman team, which did not do much passing, he caught 23 for 346 yards. With Newland around, the Oregon varsity is sure to do some passing.
When John Riggins was still frolicking through his senior year at Centralia, Kan., rolling up 1,800 yards and 30 touchdowns, Don Fambrough, an assistant coach from Kansas, went down to take a look at him. Upon his return to Lawrence he told his associates, "You wouldn't believe what I saw. He did everything but sell popcorn." Riggins did do everything, including being an honor student, playing tuba in the school marching band and string bass in the orchestra. No fewer than 100 college coaches believed what Fambrough saw, and Riggins was flooded with offers. But he had made up his mind years before. "I grew up wanting to play at Kansas," he said. "My brother was there, too [he is the starting tailback], and I wanted a chance to be on the team with him." At the moment the younger Riggins does not have the first—string fullback's job all to himself, largely because he missed spring practice with a dislocated shoulder. "But John will prove he is quite a football player," says Fambrough. Riggins certainly was in high school. His coach, Lennie Mohlman, recalls that in one game Riggins had already scored three touchdowns and Centralia had the ball back on its own eight-yard line when Mohlman took Riggins out. "What'd you do that for, Coach?" said John. "I was just getting ready to make another touchdown."
These five sophomores all have superior preseason promise, but there are many who could prove to be as noteworthy by the end of the season. Among them: Army Halfback Billy Hunter, Harvard Halfback Richie Szaro, Florida Linebacker Mike Kelly, West Virginia Tailback Bob Gresham, Notre Dame Lineman Tony Capers, Ohio State Quarterback Rex Kern, Purdue Defensive Tackle Alex Davis, Indiana Halfback Larry Highbaugh, Texas A&M Defensive End Mike DeNiro, Texas Linebacker Scott Henderson, Air Force Tailback Curtis Martin, UCLA Halfback Mickey Cureton and Lloyd Weston, that other good linebacker from Pittsburgh.