It was as bad a day as Chester Marcol is likely to have. He missed a field-goal attempt of 38 yards, one of his punts was blocked and his team, Hillsdale College of Michigan, suffered its most depressing loss of the season, 43-10 to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The fact that Marcol saved one touchdown by making an open-field tackle on a punt return, completed two passes from kick formation, averaged 44 yards on the seven punts that were not blocked and, before the game, warmed up with several 60-yard field goals—all that was of little consolation. Chester Marcol does these things frequently.
In case you are wondering what kind of kicker performs this way on a bad day, understand that Chester Marcol is hardly ordinary. He holds the modern collegiate records for longest field goal (62 yards) and most consecutive extra points (104) and has averaged better than 40 yards a punt in his career. In case you are wondering why you have never heard of Chester Marcol, keep wondering. As the prison boss said in Cool Hand Luke, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
"It's hard to phone someone and tell him about Hillsdale College," says Mike Mills, a senior who performs a full-time sports information director's chores in addition to completing 17 hours of studies. "They just think it's another small college, but when a man is kicking, he should be judged on an equal basis with someone from the Big Ten or Southeastern Conference."
Evidently, though, some people think it is easier to kick a 60-yard field goal for a small college than for a major university. True, Hillsdale, a school of about 1,100 students some 80 miles southwest of Detroit, became a camping ground for writers and photographers the week after Marcol's 62-yarder in 1969, but publicity subsided quickly. People forgot quickly, too. When Bill McClard of Arkansas kicked a 60-yarder last year, the feat was at first reported as a modern record. When the mistake was noticed, the guilty ones often replied, "Oh, we meant NCAA record. Hillsdale is an NAIA school, and they don't count."
Oddly enough, the two people who should most resent Marcol's anonymity—Marcol and his coach, Frank (Muddy) Waters—are on the whole unperturbed. "I got enough publicity when I set the record," Marcol says. Adds Waters: "For us, being a small school like we are, we don't command the attention. We're happy to get any publicity at all. In this area alone, we're competing with Michigan and Eastern Michigan—both ranked teams."
Marcol and Waters speak with some prescience. At least half a dozen NFL teams have serious enough kicking problems to be on the lookout for top college prospects, and Marcol is likely to be the least-known first-round pick. Well, least known to the public. Gil Brandt, the superscout of the Dallas Cowboys, has a voluminous file on him, and Cleveland scout Lou Groza, who kicked more points than anyone in pro history, has said, "Marcol is the best kicker I've seen so far this year."
His punts, which are high enough to allow for good coverage, are just what the pros want. That his dual kicking talents will save pro teams one specialist enhances his attractiveness, of course. Only one pro—Dennis Partee (San Diego)—is both punter and placekicker.
In his better-known capacity, placekicking, Marcol is already ahead of most pros. This season only four NFL regulars have missed fewer field goal attempts from inside the 40. Marcol is 2 for 3 from 40 to 49 yards and only some close calls from 50 and more, abetted by stiff winds and rain, have prevented him from joining the six pros who have hit from long range. Marcol attempted a 77-yarder on the last play of one game. It was five yards short and, as the students say, right on. Marcol has kicked eight field goals of 50 yards or more at Hillsdale. He was the first player selected for this year's Shrine Bowl, which indicates people other than pro scouts are getting the message, too.
Ever since he was Czeslaw Marcol, stopping soccer balls as the goalie for his town team in Opole, Poland back in the early 1960s, Marcol has been delivering the message in one language or another. He was such a good soccer player that when his mother decided to move the family in with relatives in Imlay City, Mich. upon the death of Chester's father in 1964, the town of Opole reputedly offered to buy Chester a house to keep him in Poland.
His introduction to America was relatively free of the usual cultural hazards. A girl cousin helped him through his early days at Imlay City High and a friendly teacher tutored him overtime in English. His soccer-style kicking talents were discovered in a gym class by a teacher named John Rowan, and it was just another step to the football field. While Imlay City people are vague about the length of his field goals—estimates of his longest range from 46 to 55—he was so accurate from short range that the only two extra points he missed as a senior were blocked.
Marcol was refused admission at Michigan State because he supposedly could not pass the English requirement. "I don't think so," he says. "They say I couldn't pass the English entrance exam, but they never gave it to me. I could have entered that school as a foreign student with no problem because they offer many more languages. I could have taken Polish and Russian, which I speak."
MSU never bothered to exercise that option, but John Rowan, a Hillsdale graduate, did. He introduced Marcol to Waters and Marcol was enrolled at Hillsdale as a foreign student taking English as a foreign language. He has since been naturalized. It hardly seems too much to suggest that if Chester Marcol had been able to speak English, he might even now be kicking his long field goals on national television.
As an NAIA kicker, he is unrecognized and a bit bitter about the short shrift all kickers, especially foreign-born ones, get. A remark by Alex Karras, the former Detroit Lion defensive tackle, especially irritates him. Karras said, "I think those foreign soccer kickers should have their visas taken away from them and be returned to wherever they come from. The game is predicated around the touchdown, that's the way I feel about it."
Marcol, who is 6'1" and weighs 190 pounds, is a convincing rebuttal in action. He fields errant snaps from center like the goalie he was, made six solo tackles this year and threw a 38-yard scoring pass when a field-goal snap flew over his head. Indeed, Marcol, who was a defensive halfback and split end in high school, is most likely to jeopardize his pro chances through his outspoken love of contact.
Hillsdale College is about as well known to the public as Marcol, and with as little reason. The school has been best publicized for a UFO sighting there and for its academic dean, E. Harold Munn, the Prohibition Party candidate for President. Founded in 1844 by Free Will Baptists (it is nonsectarian now), Hillsdale graduated a first class of five that included a woman and a black man named Fisk who founded a school by the same name in Nashville. Hillsdale's major major is business administration and the fraternities claim about 45% of the students. The energetic new president, 36-year-old Dr. George C. Roche III, is a widely published economist-historian and friend of William F. Buckley Jr. The school is immensely proud of the fact that it has never accepted state or government aid. It is a quiet campus amid small hills in country more New England than Midwest in character and the most riotous sound emanating of a fall night is the military cadence of fraternity pledges reciting their chants.
Yet Hillsdale is less conservative than liberal, liberal in the classical mold of an institution that values individualism above all else. The school's motto is "Preparation for Leadership." Business leaders conduct seminars at the Dow Leadership Conference Center, and students are invited to watch through one-way mirrors. There are student-faculty committees and a student is expected ultimately to join the board of trustees. "We try to maintain values of human dignity and a belief in a powerful God, which in turn brings out the individual and his potential," says the president's assistant, Dr. Louis Pitchford, a big, friendly man with a remarkable resemblance to Senator Muskie.
Blending in very nicely with the school is the athletic department, which is run by the benevolent presence of Muddy Waters, who looks like a beardless Santa Claus with his white hair, ruddy face and laugh wrinkles around the eyes. There are only 48 tuition grants and no full rides for any sport. Most scholarship athletes come from out of state and work at part-time jobs to remain at Hillsdale. "I don't want an athletic dorm," says Waters. "I wouldn't take one if you gave it to me. I want our athletes to have the full college experience."
Marcol was at first very lost at Hillsdale. "My first kickoff went 20 yards," he says. "I began to ask myself, 'What am I doing here?' " (Interjects Waters, "So did I.") Marcol is now happy about his college experience, speaking English quite fluently—only an occasionally missing article gives his origins away—with the usual quota of "Oh, wow" and "man" in his vocabulary. He is a fraternity member, is pinned to a girl and lives in a typical off-campus bachelor pad with Saad Jallad, an Arab from Jerusalem who is Marcol's understudy on the team.
Last spring Marcol saved up his money to vacation in Florida. At the end of a week Waters, who also was in Florida at the time, asked him how he was doing. "Coach," Marcol said, "I'm spending money like mad. I came here with $17 and now I've got $6." Waters is anxious that Marcol isn't conned financially by the pros and a well-versed economist has been chosen to advise him at contract time. "Of course," says Waters, "we don't want to ask for too much. We just want Chester to earn a good salary."
You might say he already has earned it, Muddy.