Arizona State of the Western Athletic Conference opens its schedule next September with Minnesota of the Big Ten. Last week a story in a Minnesota paper appeared questioning why any Big Ten team would want to schedule Arizona State. The story reasoned that the Big Ten could only lose prestige in defeat to ASU and would be credited with nothing if it won.
That would be a responsible premise if it had been offered a decade ago when Arizona State was playing such teams as Midwestern and Montana State College. The way the WAC is advancing, though, the inverse of the argument may be more accurate by next fall—namely, why would ASU want to risk so much by scheduling a Big Ten school?
Outside of the Mountain time zone, nobody yet pays much attention to the WAC. The bookies, who will offer odds on almost anything that moves, even Penn vs. Brown, fail to include the WAC games in their weekly national line. Last year was the first time that journalists and coaches voted a WAC school into the final Top Ten.
It was the pros, perhaps, who first appreciated the improved WAC play, and particularly the talent that Coach Frank Kush was developing at Arizona State. But in the last couple of years it has been hard for the Big Ten or anyone else to deny that the WAC has arrived. Wyoming was unbeaten last year, and led LSU 13-0 at the half in the Sugar Bowl before tiring and losing in the last quarter. Texas at El Paso beat Mississippi 14-7. The same day ASU beat Wisconsin 42-16, Arizona, the doormat of the WAC, topped Ohio State.
October 13, 1968
Arizona State started off this season beating Wisconsin again 55-7, and in the Sun Devil trainer's room the signs that read 11-0: IN OUR HEARTS WE KNOW IT'S RIGHT looked pretty right. Unfortunately, though, Arizona State must also play other WAC members, and last Saturday the Sun Devils' nemesis and the league's other powerhouse, Wyoming, beat Arizona State 27-13 at Laramie.
The defeat will slow Arizona State's battle for recognition, if not the train of talent that keeps showing up from all over the country to learn under Kush's grueling system. The players report before school each fall to an infamous training site called Camp Tontozona in the cool pinetree country north of Phoenix, where the workouts are three times a day and the favorite drills bear names like "nutcracker" and "hamburger." It doesn't get much easier once the season starts. Kush often schedules Friday scrimmages.
"People ask me why I came to Arizona State, to go through all this," says J. D. Hill, a 190-pound wingback from Stockton, Calif. "Well, I came here because of who's been here. Charley, The Hawk, Travis—they all said if I made it through four years under Frank Kush then pro football would just be a breeze."
A short, burly man of 38, Kush is not just running a four-year boot camp for pro prospects. His 75-27-1 coaching record is sixth best in the nation. He is better known, though, for the 17 ASU alumni who have come out of Camp Tontozona to make the pros—like Charley Taylor and Jerry Smith of Washington, Philadelphia's Ben Hawkins and Travis Williams of Green Bay.
Among the 15 legitimate pro prospects now on hand in Tempe are half a dozen backs who can run the 100 in 9.8 or less, a split end who does the 120-yard high hurdles in 13.8 and an All-America 225-pound linebacker from Antioch, Calif. named Ron Pritchard. The only position Kush has failed to fill in the pros so far is quarterback—and the lack of an outstanding one was a part of the reason that ASU lost to Wyoming.
At many schools, quarterbacks are treated much like sacred cows, wearing bright red "hands-off" sweat shirts during scrimmages. But not the Sun Devil quarterbacks. Recently, Ed Roseborough was not releasing the ball quickly enough to suit Kush, so the coach stripped his quarterback of his offensive line and made him drop back and peg the ball while an entire seven-man front charged him, flattening Roseborough time and again after he threw.
Also, there are never any players trotting around wearing sweat suits and trying to work out some sore muscles. "If they can't hit on Thursday they don't play on Saturday," says Kush, who shares Vince Lombardi's suspicion of injuries. "Sure, we're hard on them. To find out who's tough and who's not we make them kick the hell out of each other. But in the long run they're better for it. They're all very young and immature. I'm just trying to give them the benefit of what I've learned."
One of 15 children of a Windber, Pa. coal miner, Kush was very much on his own by the time he was 14, when his father died. Working to help support the family, he fully expected to spend the rest of his life in mine No. 35—until he began to receive offers of football scholarships. He played for three years under Biggie Munn at Michigan State, and in 1952, Kush made All-America as a 170-pound guard.
Kush was greatly influenced by Munn, and even today, in the time of the pass, it comes as no surprise that he still has the Sun Devils running much of the Michigan State multiple offense, complete with single-wing blocking, power dives and slants. Everything is built around the ground game which, of course, demands toughness on the part of the ballcarriers. "They've got to run tough," says Kush, "so we make them into blockers first. You've got to be aggressive to block somebody, 'cause if you're not they'll take your head off. When they learn to block and be aggressive, we give them the ball."
The players do not resent Kush's hard ways. Instead, they all come to possess a Spartan pride in their mental and physical toughness. Dr. W. W. Scott, the team physician, has not been on the field in five years, and nobody can really remember (or doesn't dare to) the last time a stretcher was needed for an ASU player. Players stunned enough to require a time out almost always have smiles stitched onto their faces by the time Trainer Ray Robison trots out and bends over them. "They don't want the doc or me out there," says Robison. "They don't want nobody out there."
Wyoming gives Arizona State fits every year because it favors the same kind of game. Coach Lloyd Eaton recruits just as extensively as Kush. While there are only five Arizonans on the ASU roster, the Cowboys suit up only three Wyoming residents. The Sun Devils opened up a 10-0 lead Saturday on a field goal and J. D. Hill's plunge, but the Cowboys managed to tie at the half and broke the game open in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils could not contain Jim Barrows of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who made two long punt returns to set up a pair of touchdowns. Ed Synakowski, a sophomore from Utica, N.Y., threw two touchdown passes, and Skip Jacobson from San Diego passed for a final, game-clinching score.
The Cowboy defense, shifting constantly from a 5-3 to a 5-2 to a 6-1, kept the Sun Devil runners in check, and when Rosenborough and sophomore Joe Spagnola (from Paterson, N.J.) could complete only three of 16 passes, ASU was able to manage a mere 120 yards total offense.
The 11-0 sign in the locker room must come down now, but 9-1 might still mean a bowl bid, and 10-1 might even make hamburgers and nutcrackers easier to take next September at Tontozona.