Remember the olddays, about eight or 10 minutes ago, when a freshman football player wasexpected to fumble every other carry because he always had one hand on theClearasil? Remember when freshmen were those guys around the fraternity houseshining shoes and mixing martinis for the suave sophomores who knew how to letthe sweater hang just right? Remember when freshmen were lucky if they couldget a date to go to the pancake house with a humpbacked, gotch-eyed leper whohad never even heard of Merle Haggard? Remember when freshmen weren't evenpeople?
Well, in thefirst place, those days were all fantasy, anyhow. A fantasy created by a paradeof coaches who discovered long ago that they could lean on the alibi of youthwhen explaining interceptions and baroque pitchouts. Freshmen have forever beenold enough to send off to war, so where did it ever say in embossed goldlettering that an 18-year-old wasn't smart, strong, big or fast enough to doanything a 19-year-old or 20-year-old could do? It didn't. And now a whole pileof freshmen are proving it in college football in the most high-powered era thegame has known. Every Saturday they've been doing it. As Texas' Darrell Royalsays, "I guess it proves that if a dog's going to bite you, he'll bite youwhen he's a pup."
The pups wereadmitted last January when the NCAA major colleges sat up on their hind legsand tried to do something about the higher cost of triple options, or so theysaid. Freshmen are now eligible for the varsity just like they always were inother times of strife, such as during world wars and police actions on foreignsoil. Only now the strife is financial, what with the rising expense ofmaintaining a squad and artificial turf and recruiting and two dozenassistants. Presumably with freshmen eligible, fewer scholarships have to begiven for football. That was the logic.
Of course, thecoaches of the elite took it personally. They almost unanimously looked uponthe legislation as a trick to damage their recruiting, a way to help out thehave-nots. A good athlete would now avoid a Nebraska, for example, where therewould be a lot of competition, in favor of an Oklahoma State, where he couldprobably earn a starting position as a rookie.
October 30, 1972
In fact,Nebraska's Bob Devaney, with his tongue poking not only through his cheek butpractically through his cocktail glass, said, "When NCAA people meet in aplace like Hollywood, Fla., what else are they going to do but pass a stupidrule like the freshman thing? If they'd met at Scranton, Pa., they'd get thehell out of there so fast they wouldn't have time to make such a ridiculousdecision."
The cries thatfreshmen wouldn't be able to help any good team—not really—were loud andfar-flung. Kansas' Don Fambrough said you can't win in the Big Eight with verymany sophomores in your lineup, so how are you going to win with freshmen?Oklahoma's Chuck Fairbanks said last spring, "I wouldn't expect a freshmanto help out in a program like ours." Devaney said he didn't want to see afreshman unless he was Johnny Rodgers. John McKay asked what a freshman was.Bear Bryant said he didn't even like freshman coaches. And Woody Hayes didn'tunderstand the question.
What hashappened, of course, if you have lately been hearing such names as the BuckeyTwins (see cover), or Archie Griffin, or Kerry Jackson, or Wayne Morris, or DonTaylor, or Quinn Buckner—or any number of others—is that at least three dozenmajor teams, including most of the Alabamas and Oklahomas, have made theremarkable discovery that some freshmen are not only plenty O.K. but can makeconsiderable contributions toward winning games.
Even the moststubborn of coaches predicted something like this might happen by midseason.The unique first-year player will "break in," they said. Here andthere. The extremely mature kid, they said, who had benefited from exceptionalhigh school coaching and had a real "want-to" about him.
But the fact is,a lot of them broke in right away, from the very beginning more than a monthago. Sometimes he was an offensive guard like Alabama's Greg Montgomery andsometimes he was a quarterback like Kent State's Greg Kokal, who passed histeam to a victory over Ohio U. before he had even attended a college class.Sometimes he was a defensive tackle like LSU's Steve Cassidy and sometimes hewas a linebacker like Iowa's Andre Jackson, who went out and started leadingthe Big Ten in tackles. Sometimes he was a substitute like Pacific's BruceKeplinger, who suddenly found himself playing quarterback against Washingtonand LSU when the starter was hurt. And sometimes he was a Goliath of anoffensive tackle like 17-year-old Ron Hunt at Oregon, who has merely beenlabeled "the find of the century" by his coach, Dick Enright. Oregon,incidentally, used seven freshmen in its 15-13 upset of Stanford last Saturday,and Enright said, "Oh, how I love those freshmen."
The most notable,however, are the ones who have been in the headlines all season long, the oneswho first made the losing coaches say, "You mean to tell me he's afreshman?"
How about theBuckey Twins of North Carolina State? Dave throws, Don catches, and the schoolhasn't been this excited since Roman Gabriel was around, somewhere near thetime of Lillian Russell. The Buckey Twins are exactly that, identical. Theywear the same clothes, think the same thoughts and come from the same Akron,Ohio. And after they had stepped forward in mid-September and thrashed Syracuse43-20 with a lot of throwing and catching, Ben Schwartzwalder said, "Theyhave amazing poise for their age."
Confidence, too."We knew we'd have a chance to play early if we went to State," saysDon, the catcher. "We've got the best offense in the United States. We canmove the ball on anybody. By the time we're seniors, State will be in the top10."
The Buckeys havealready made a lot of believers. When N.C. State whipped East Carolina 38-16last week, it put State's record at 4-2-1, and both of the losses weresqueakers. In the old grudge match against North Carolina, with both freshmenhaving a good afternoon, they lost 34-33 only because State tried a two-pointconversion and failed.
Dave Buckey was asprintout passer in high school, but now he's all kinds, and in Don he has areceiver who is not only slippery but, as a twin, probably coordinates with thequarterback through ESP.
"I oftenconverse with someone on the street," says Don, "and Dave will see thesame person later and ask him the same questions."
There issomething equally mysterious about another Ohio freshman, one who stayed home.At Ohio State, to be exact. It's the way he runs. A couple of teams couldn'treally tell you much about Archie Griffin because they haven't found him yet.Archie got 239 yards on North Carolina and 192 yards on Illinois, and throughfive games now (although you can hardly count the opener since he was in onlymomentarily at the end) he is averaging 107 yards per Saturday. Everybody inColumbus regards him as Hopalong Cassady reincarnate.
If there is amore impressive freshman running back in the land than Griffin, it could beWayne Morris of SMU, who is big and fast and obviously has less help. WayneMorris is already being pronounced the greatest thing to come to the schoolsince Doak Walker, although until last Saturday he hadn't even been able to getinto the starting lineup because Coach Hayden Fry persisted in alternating himwith Alvin Maxson, the Southwest Conference's leading rusher in 1971. AgainstRice last week, Morris sneaked in with Maxson at the same time and the resultswere certainly gratifying for SMU fans. Rice threw everything it had intostopping the "M Boys," so SMU Quarterback Keith Bobo had a field dayand the Mustangs buried Rice 29-14. It proved a freshman can beat you at timeswith his mere presence. Morris gained only 73 yards, but after five games, fourof which he did not play that much of, the world finds Wayne Morris averaging aflashy 7.3 yards a carry with 499 yards gained.
His old highschool coach, Norman Jett, is admittedly prejudiced but not insane. And hesays, "Wayne is the best football player in the conference right now. If hedoesn't get hurt, he is a cinch Heisman Trophy winner before he is through. Andyou cannot believe what a great person he is. He'll invigorate the wholeteam."
Hayden Fryconcurs, with no restraint. "He is a dream come true," says the coach."He has wisdom beyond his years, poise, personality, and unbelievableathletic ability."
One of the thingsthat coaches felt would go against freshmen the most would be their lack ofmuscle development on proper weight programs, which the upperclassmen wouldhave had. The old man-against-boy theory. Of course, such a thing wouldn'tapply to somebody like Notre Dame's Steve Niehaus. Until he suffered a freakinjury in practice last week and was lost for the season, Niehaus was lookinglike a typical South Bend immortal. He was big and strong enough (6'5",265) to take care of himself nicely, thanks, as a starting defensivetackle.
The day before heturned 18, Niehaus was in on 13 tackles against Northwestern in Notre Dame'sopener. And it has to be more than symbolic that with Niehaus suddenly out lastSaturday, the previously unbeaten Irish were upset by Missouri 30-26.
Actually, one ofthe first freshmen to make the world realize that the new rule was here did itwith his foot. That was Dan Taylor, a teen-ager at Bowling Green who walkedinto a workout and five days later placekicked a field goal in the last quarterto score a mighty upset over Purdue. His toe also helped beat Miami of Ohio thefollowing Saturday, but it was after that opener with the Boilermakers that yougot an idea of what it must be like for a few of the rookies.
Kind of millingaround the dressing room after the initial jubilation of victory, Don Taylor,freshman, hero, walk-on, confessed that he felt "lonely."
"I don't knowanybody yet," he said. Some freshmen have so much ability their coachesdon't quite know where to use them. A classic example is Indiana's QuinnBuckner, who is also a basketball hero. He's an impressive 6'2", 198 andquick. So far, Buckner is a starting safety ("We let him cover the wholemiddle," says Defensive Backfield Coach Nick Mourouzis), plus a punt-andkick-off-return specialist. Buckner has been spectacular on a so-so team. It isnot impossible that in future seasons he could become an All-America in twodifferent sports.
Of all thefreshmen who have been stirring up excitement, the one who has a chance to makeit the biggest eventually is a quarterback named Kerry Jackson at Oklahoma. Heis in the glamour job, after all, on a glamour team and in a glamour offense,the Wishbone. Through last Saturday in his second straight TV appearance,Jackson still had not won the job from the seasoned upperclassman DaveRobertson, but it seemed clear that he might, seeing as how OU was rudely upsetbecause of its inability to move the ball. Although he is part of the AvisBunch, which is what Oklahoma's speedy second-team backfield calls itself,Jackson is one of the team's leading rushers with 298 yards, or 6.3 per carry.The loss to Colorado proved OU feels the absence of Jack Mildren atquarterback, but Jackson shows strong signs of becoming another one.
"I don't knowif I'm ready to start," Jackson says, "but I'd rather be where I amthan on a freshman team. I like it when Joe Washington [another freshman] and Iare in the game together. That's on time, man."
Who is not ontime, not exactly, is a fellow named Bruce Peterson, a freshman kickingspecialist at Hamline. He hasn't gotten in a game yet, but there he is, suitedup and willing. He happens to be 42 years old and he admits that his wifethinks he is crazy for doing what he is doing at his age.
Mrs. BrucePeterson may be right, but her husband certainly isn't any crazier than all ofthose coaches who thought freshmen couldn't play.