Football practice at Louisiana Tech University, this year's king of the small colleges, is a morality play in hip pads, a pigskin Armageddon. It is a clash between good and evil in which blows are struck, blood is shed, curses are shouted. The offense and defense have their spiritual guides: Denny Duron, a quarterback and an evangelist; Joe McNeely, a linebacker and a rowdy. The twain meet, and the thunder rolls.
Intrasquad hostilities cease on autumn Saturdays for war of another sort. The enemy is more easily identified. His colors are those of Southland Conference opponents like Southwestern Louisiana, McNeese State and Texas-Arlington. Louisiana Tech always wins—12 times without a defeat last season. If the tall, handsome quarterback with his passages from Philippians does not do it, the short, unhandsome linebacker with his guttural ferocity will. And if it be neither, there is the split end who can beat any defense, or the defensive tackle who is as invulnerable to bullets as he is to double team blocks. To be sure, there is an unusual football team in Lincoln Parish, Ruston, La.
Coach Maxie Lambright does not fully comprehend the conflicting personalities represented on his team, but he does understand football talent. There is plenty of it among the Bulldogs' nine offensive and eight defensive starters from last year's corecipient of the National Football Foundation's John F. Kennedy Award. The other college-division team honored was Delaware, which did not risk its unbeaten regular season in a bowl game. Louisiana Tech did and defeated Tennessee Tech 35-0.
Duron passed for two touchdowns in the Grantland Rice Bowl and was the game's outstanding offensive player. McNeely made 12 tackles, recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown. Football talent is perhaps their only similarity.
"Denny's been trying to straighten me out," McNeely confesses. "I am kind of rowdy."
Lambright is more precise. "Joe doesn't just tolerate contact, he enjoys it."
Louisiana Tech's coaches define offense and defense in terms that also seem appropriate to the Bulldogs' spiritual leaders. Offense is "poise, finesse and execution." Defense is "fight, fury and utter abandon."
Senior Duron is fulfilling the responsibilities handed down by that former Bulldog quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. When he took the job last season—at the only college that offered him a scholarship—he had not played the position since high school. In each of the preceding four years Tech quarterbacks had amassed more than 2,000 yards passing. Three times they had led the team to a postseason game. Duron met the challenge by contemplating a favorite passage—"I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me"—-and by praying. "God," Duron began, "they've had other quarterbacks here who were great. If I do that I won't have done anything new. So I'm praying for an unbeaten season as glory to You." Louisiana Tech went unbeaten, Duron passed for more than 2,000 yards, and the Lord, presumably, was glorified.
Prayer was a natural outlet for Duron, an Assembly of God believer who travels with an evangelical music group called The Vessels. On Thursday nights during the school year he holds campus prayer services. In the spring he baptizes confessors in the school's outdoor swimming pool. There were 11 immersed last May 17. Among them was Halfback Glen Berteau, the leading rusher the previous fall. "Praise God," Duron said.
Denny Duron is not alone in his beliefs among the Louisiana Tech players. "I think God had a plan when he called me here," says Tight End Huey Kirby, who himself called 34 new souls to Christ at a revival in Jonesboro one evening. "This isn't just a coincidence, our being here together. I believe the good Lord brought it all together for us."
"I'm just thankful I'm part of a team with a Christian atmosphere," says Guard Randy Crouch.
"The Lord doesn't get much glory out of losers," says Wide Receiver Roger Carr.
It is Duron's philosophy that "if the Lord helps us fulfill our potential, we will win." Certainly the potential is there.
"If a person believes that 'God is on our side,' and it helps him play well," says Lambright, "then that's going to help the team. But another guy might think he has to bust everything that moves to be good. That's good for the team, too. Whatever it takes to inspire an individual's confidence is all right with me."
The 5'9", 200-pound McNeely prefers contact. "I'm the littlest, slowest guy out there," he says, "but I can't stand to get whipped." Defensive Tackle Fred Dean is just about the biggest, fastest guy out there, and he cannot stand to get whipped either.
One NFL player-personnel director called the 6'3", 220-pound Dean "the best defensive end prospect I ever saw." Dean understands what such a reputation can mean. "Every man is a dollar mark to me. I want to show people what I can do. It's just a common thing to go out and whup somebody." It is decidedly uncommon, however, to repel a 22-caliber rifle bullet shot into your side as if it were a rubber BB. That is exactly what happened to Dean when he was cleaning his gun one day last summer. The next day he was out on the school's track getting in shape for the football season.
"The defense tries to make us think they're tough," says Tackle Roy Waters. "I don't know how much of it is an act, but they are pretty convincing."
The offense is not without its sturdy figures either. Fine blockers like Tackle Pat Greer provide ample time for those long Duron-to-Carr passes. Carr averaged a nation's best, 25.5 yards per catch on 40 receptions. "Nothing excites me more than hearing our long play called in the huddle," says Carr, another outstanding professional prospect. "Sometimes I like the game to be close so they will throw to me even more. I don't think there's anyone who can stay with me."
Carr's game-breaking ability is not always needed on a team whose victory margin averaged 16 points. Precisely half the yards in the Bulldogs' delicately balanced offense came on the ground. Tailbacks Berteau and Charles McDaniel combined for better than 1,000 yards. As a freshman the year before, McDaniel accounted for 913 yards and 17 touchdowns by himself, both school records, and he may be back to that form after two injuries.
Equipped with such talent, Louisiana Tech's sternest competition usually comes on those afternoon practice sessions, when, as McNeely says, "the players hate each other and there's a whole lot of cussing and fighting." But there are adversaries of another sort who are never combated on the football field. Sitting somewhat menacingly only four miles away is Grambling College, which, like LSU and Tulane in South Louisiana, covets talented players also. "We've been pretty lucky this year," says Louisiana Tech Assistant Coach E. J. Lewis. "We got 11 players from the intrastate high school all-star game. That's what you need to keep it going."
Nor is it a disadvantage to be married to the school's admissions director—which Lewis is—or to have strong support for your program in the office of Tech President Dr. F. Jay Taylor.
Dr. Taylor knows the country roads that lead to prospects' doors, and he knows the sophisticated chambers of the state government where financial support for the school's impressive athletic facilities can be rallied. "He's a wheeler-dealer," said another assistant coach proudly.
Louisiana Tech's football success can now be understood: God is on its side and so is the governor.
Delaware, the tallest of the smalls the last two seasons, must replace 15 starters in its quest for an unprecedented third straight national championship and sixth straight Lambert Cup. The "skill positions" in the Blue Hens' wing-T are secure with the return of Quarterback Scotty Reihm, who passed and ran for 1,021 yards last season, and Running Backs Vern Roberts (706 yards rushing) and Blair Caviness (525 yards). Losses in the offensive line and on defense were heavy, but Coach Tubby Raymond has a way of making do.
Ashland College also went unbeaten last year (11-0) with an offense that averaged 32 points per game and a defense that allowed a nation's-best 5.6. Nine defenders return, as does Lou Groza's son Jeff, the field-goal specialist. Groza made nine of 15 attempts last fall and was the sixth leading small-college kick scorer with 66 points.
The longest winning streak in the country belongs to Division II member Bridgeport, 11-0 last year and looking for its 22nd in a row.
NOT ALL THE TEAMS WORTHY OF NATIONAL RECOGNITION ARE SMALL. TURN PAGE FOR SCOUTING REPORTS AND RANKINGS