The quarterback is talking now. His name is Rusty LaRue--a
quarterback name if ever there was one--and he was the starter
last year for Wake Forest as a junior and he figures to be the
starter again this year. He is a 21-year-old guy with a
military-style buzz cut. His even voice is touched softly by the
South; he is talking about an embarrassing moment.
"There were 40 seconds left," he says. "We were playing North
"I had the ball. I faked...."
August 4, 1995
"Jerry Stackhouse went for the fake. But...."
Jerry Stackhouse? Wait a minute. Isn't Jerry Stackhouse the
basketball All-America from North Carolina, the NBA's No. 3
draft choice? He didn't play football, did he?
"I put up a brick. Stackhouse got the ball and went down the
other way and nailed a three-pointer to tie it. Thank goodness
we won the game and the ACC title in overtime. If we'd have lost
by that.... I went back to the gym the next morning. I took the
same shot all over again and made it. No problem."
Basketball? The quarterback is also a basketball player? How can
he do that? Don't the seasons overlap in Division I-A, the
high-powered level of college sport? Isn't this the Age of
Specialization? After all, doctors aren't doctors
anymore--they're experts on the third vertebra from the top or
the second toe from the left. And lawyers handle only cases
involving DNA left out in the rain. And athletes--big-time
athletes, at least--can work with only one kind of ball for an
entire school year, right? How can this quarterback be a
"I just get up and go," LaRue says. "In the off-season I can
lift weights and run in the morning and play basketball at the Y
at night. In the afternoon sometimes I can practice my hitting.
That's the toughest thing to keep up, hitting baseballs."
"Rusty LaRue. The more I get to know him, the more amazed I am
by him," Wake Forest offensive coordinator Jan Quarless--that's
football offensive coordinator Jan Quarless--says. "He has a
tremendous balance in his life, a great ability to focus on what
he is doing. He somehow doesn't get caught up in all those
college things that other students seem to find. I've been
coaching now for 20 years, and if I had to name any athletes who
would even try to do the things he does, he would be the only
one I could think of."
Football, basketball, baseball. The best way to describe his
busy life is with a list. What does Rusty LaRue do?
--He is the incumbent quarterback on the football team. The Demon
Deacons struggled last year with a 3-8 record and will probably
struggle again this year. He is one of those coach-on-the-field
sort of quarterbacks--not flashy, but confident. Steady. He
connected on 132 of 230 passes last year, five for touchdowns.
--He is a shooting guard on the basketball team, the ACC champs.
He was the sixth man for the Deacons last year, 6'3", 190
pounds, coming off the bench to shoot three-pointers. The team
is expected to be good again, and he has a chance to start.
--He is a pitcher on the baseball team. He joined the team
late--after the NCAA basketball tournament and spring football
practice--and appeared in only one game, against Furman. The
first two batters singled, but he retired the next nine in his
only three innings.
--He is a computer-science major with a minor in math and a 3.2
grade point average. He has worked the past four summers with
professor Robert Plemmons on special projects under a National
Science Foundation grant. He is the co-author of a paper
entitled "Optimization Problems in Adaptive Optics," which won a
regional prize. The other author, Matthew Rudd, is now pursuing
a doctorate at the University of Chicago.
--He is a tutor in an English-as-a-second-language program at a
Winston-Salem church and a speaker at assorted banquets and
luncheons. He makes speaking appearances everywhere, all the
time. He delivers a message of working toward a goal, of doing
what you want to do.
--And he is a married man. A year ago he and Tammy Watson, his
girlfriend since he was 14 years old, were wed. The big news
here--this just in--is that he is also an expectant father.
"I'm always doing something, going somewhere," he says,
describing his days. "You look in the back of my GMC Jimmy and
you'll find all kinds of things. Right now there's a baseball
bat because I've been practicing my hitting. There's a
basketball--I'll have a basketball in my car until the day I die.
There's a football, in case I have a chance to do some throwing.
And, of course, a pair of hightops. They're always there. I'm
Sometimes he cooks dinner when he gets home.
"He's always been busy, and he's always played sports," LaRue's
mother, Linda, says. "When he was growing up, we lived in
Kernersville, which is halfway between Winston-Salem and
Greensboro. It was just the perfect neighborhood for sports. If
you came out the front door and held any kind of ball in your
hands, there were 15 kids around you in an instant, ready to
play a game. Any game.
"There was a woman across the street, Mrs. Blanton, who had an
entire baseball field in her backyard. The mound, the base
paths, everything. The only rule she had--kids could play there
anytime--was that if a kid came to the field, he had to be
allowed to play. Boy, girl, any age. I remember Rusty going over
there, five years old, and the kids wouldn't let him play, and
he was knocking on the door, saying, 'Mrs. Blanton, isn't it a
rule they have to let me play?' He was in the game."
Another neighbor, Mrs. Wear, had a large yard that was used for
football. The LaRues' house was where the basketball court was
located. They had it covered with a synthetic surface so it
would dry quickly. They had a regulation backboard. They had
lights. They had games late into the night. A kid could play all
three sports in the neighborhood in a single day, any day. At
least one kid could. His focus was with him from the beginning.
"When Rusty was ready for sixth grade, our county passed a
measure that dropped all sports in the middle schools," Linda
says. "Rusty was upset. All on his own he found out that the
next county, Guilford County, had kept sports and that he could
attend if we paid tuition. He said that was what he wanted to
do. We kind of played down the idea, but about a week later he
came back with his arguments. He had them all written down on a
piece of paper. He had the comparative SAT scores for the two
counties. He had the finances figured out. He had all this
logic. We paid tuition for seventh and eighth grades, and then
we moved to Guilford County when he went to high school."
He played all the games on all the teams. He was everywhere. He
remembered the plays in Pop Warner football better than his
coach, who happened to be his father, Bob. His father would tell
him, "Just pick a running play." He pitched on a senior Little
League team that went to the World Series and lost to Taiwan. He
made trips around the country with AAU boys' basketball teams.
That was the family vacation: AAU tournaments, following Rusty
or his older brother, Chan, or his younger sister, Katie, in the
There were various coaches who told him, "Psssst, Rusty, you'd
really better pick one of these sports and concentrate on that."
But why? He was all-state in football at Northwest Guilford High
School. He was all-state in basketball. He was all-state in
baseball. He did a science project in the family sink that
peeled away the enamel. He was hanging out with Tammy, a
three-sport athlete herself, all the time. He graduated 11th in
"I saw him stressed out only once," his mother says. "The only
time in his life, really. It was the spring. The team was in the
basketball finals. He was getting his arm ready for baseball,
lifting weights for football. He also had some major reports due
for class. I found him at 5 a.m. working on the computer. He was
worried that he couldn't get everything done. The next day,
though, the problem was gone. He figured it out for himself. He
started going to school an hour earlier."
The first three years in college have been attacked the same
way. Need more time? Put more hours in the day. The casual parts
of campus life have been eliminated from the schedule. No frat
parties. No dormitory water fights. No fooling around. Even
marriage was part of the streamlining. Tammy, two years older,
had graduated from college and was living in Greensboro. Think
of the commuting time he could cut out if they were living
together as man and wife. That was part of the presentation he
made to his parents, everything written down on paper again.
He has extracted as much out of his football scholarship as it
could give. He has gone to a bowl game and been knocked
unconscious by Florida State All-America defensive end Derrick
Alexander before a home crowd. He has been called for a foul
against Grant Hill at Duke, the two of them landing in a clump
of arms and legs. He has played in the Sweet 16 twice. Baseball?
He will see to that next spring. There is the thought from Wake
Forest baseball coach George Greer that maybe that will be the
sport he follows into the pros. All this, and he also has been a
"I watched the game against North Carolina at Chapel Hill last
year on television," Plemmons says. "Rusty was on the court. The
game ended, I did a few things around the house, and a little
bit after midnight I realized I needed something back at the
computer lab. I got there and the lights were on. There was
Rusty, back from North Carolina. He said he had a project he had
"He's one of those kids you don't ever have to worry about,"
basketball coach Dave Odom says. "He's always doing what he's
supposed to be doing. You ask how he came to be like this, and I
say that it came from the home. He came from an area where
family was the most important thing there was. There were no
mixed signals, as there are for so many kids today. His life was
very orderly. And it shows."
"He's always been surrounded by family," his mother says. "We're
all from around here, just a bunch of us, and we go every-where
together. This year we took our first real vacation--no teams or
games involved. We all went to Orlando together. Grandmothers,
aunts, uncles, wives, husbands. We had a real blast."
The quarterback, the only student in the country to play all
three major sports at the Division I-A level last year, is asked
about the trip.
"It was great," he says with that even Southern voice. "I got to
play golf on one of those Disney courses."