Mickey Kwiatkowski, the Hofstra coach, knows what life in the smalls is all about: "A billion people in China don't know we play. What's worse, a lot of people in our own area don't know it, either." Too bad. The small colleges annually come up with a few juggernaut teams, eye-popping players and such wackiness as a midget halfback, the tight end/mayor, the single-wing attack and Portland State 105-Delaware State 0. Trouble is, in the NCAA's divisions I-AA, II and III there are 358 teams, not to mention the 230 playing NAIA football, some as dual members of the NCAA—all of which causes a lot of confusion. To sort out the big news from the smalls in 1981, we polled the small-college coaches.
Q. ARE THERE ANY BUDDING LEGENDS OUT THERE?
•Two for sure—Grambling State Coach Eddie Robinson and Tennessee State's John Merritt. As everyone knows by now, Bear Bryant, with 306 career wins, is fast closing in on Amos Alonzo Stagg's alltime collegiate record for victories (314). Robinson has 291 wins—15 fewer than Bryant—and, at 62, he is six years younger than Bear. Merritt, only 54, has won 206 games. Bryant will surely pass Stagg. But Robinson and Merritt have the Bear in their sights.
•Jackson State. Twenty-one former Jackson State players—including Walter Payton—played for NFL teams last fall. Only six schools, all Division I-A, had more alumni in the pros.
August 30, 1981
•Tony Madden and Milt Cerf, sort of. Madden, a Wilkes College (Pa.) tight end, defeated Pringle (Pa.) incumbent Mayor Charles Wroblewski in a primary last May and is uncontested in November's mayoral election. He's believed to be the first-ever student-athlete mayor. Cerf, a Marin County, Calif. insurance man, re-instituted and fully funded a football program at Sonoma State (Calif.). Cerf also coaches the Cossacks.
•Trumaine Johnson. Everyone who saw the Grambling wingback last fall came away impressed. He's 6'3", 190 pounds, and as a sophomore led the Southwestern Conference in receptions (41), receiving yardage (918) and scoring (96 points). First play of the Jackson State game, Johnson scored on a 96-yard pass play. He returned one punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Jackson Coach W.C. Gorden, whose Punt Returner Sylvester Stamps himself is no slouch, says, "Trumaine amazes me."
Q WHAT TEAMS WILL DEFINITELY MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
•In Division I-AA, alphabetically:
North Carolina A&T
From last fall's 10-2 team, Grambling has oodles of offensive punch to go along with Trumaine Johnson, specifically running backs Kenneth Jackson and Ernest Walker. Moreover, back on defense are all four Trees of Terror—tackles Willie Blount (6'5") and Robert Thomas (6'4") and ends Robert Smith (6'8") and Arthur King (6'6"). And don't overlook freshman Tackle James Polk, who's 6'9", 325 pounds and growing. Idaho, behind Quarterback Ken Hobart, looks ripe to win the Big Sky Conference. That would mean knocking off Boise State, last year's I-AA national champion. Since 1977 Lehigh is 39-9-2. This fall, with its usual tough defense and with Larry Michalski at quarterback, expect nothing to change. North Carolina A&T, 9-3 last year, led I-AA in rushing, and Waymon Pitts, who rushed for 936 yards, and Charlie (Soul Train) Sutton (500 yards) will again take off behind a standout veteran line dubbed "Operation Push." Just about everybody that matters is back at Western Kentucky. That's bad news for Eastern Kentucky and other Ohio Valley foes, especially since Western lost only one game last fall. Tennessee State, which drops down from Division I-A, and Eastern Illinois, a Division II power moving up, will be heard from, and with 18 starters back, Florida A&M is the sleeper.
•In Division II, alphabetically:
Angelo State (Texas)
Jacksonville (Ala.) State
Angelo State, a dual member of the NAIA, has outstanding passing, thanks to Doug Kuhlmann, and running, with Anthony Johnson, a 1,000-yard back. On defense, Linebacker Clayton Weishuhn is a two-time NAIA All-America. To get anywhere, Cal-Davis must defeat California Poly State-San Luis Obispo, the 1980 II champ. But with 10 consecutive Far Western titles under Coach Jim Sochor's belt and Ken O'Brien returning at quarterback, Cal-Davis' chances aren't exactly slim. Jacksonville State always makes the playoffs, or at least it has three of the past four years, and once again is quarterbacked by Ed Lett, who last season broke the Gulf South Conference's completion, yardage and touchdown records. Norfolk State finished fast last season, winning its final four games, and 19 of 22 starters return, among them Running Back Orlando Goodhope and the wonderfully named sophomore quarterback, Raynard Revels. Missouri-Rolla, uninvited to postseason play in 1980, is tied with Georgia for college football's longest win streak (13 games).
The dark horses: Texas A&I, Virginia Union, Northern Michigan and Alabama A&M, which, incidentally, its fans adore. An average of 15,820 spectators attended Bulldog home games.
•In Division III, Dayton lost Coach Rick Carter to Holy Cross but still looks untouchable. Last fall the Flyers were 14-0 and beat Ithaca 63-0 in the title game. Their main challengers will be Baldwin-Wallace, Wittenberg, Widener and Carnegie-Mellon. Also watch Mill-saps, which has won 10 straight, and Adrian (Mich.) College, which took its last nine in '80.
•In the NAIA, Northeastern Oklahoma State, led by 5'9" Anthony Flanders and his nine-yards-a-carry average, and Central Arkansas, featuring the passes of Randy Huffstickler to Ron Mallett, will make a run at 1980 Division I champ Elon College. Division II is up for grabs among Linfield College, Peru (Neb.) State and 1980 champion Pacific Lutheran. Last year Peru Running Back Alvin Holder led the NAIA in rushing, gaining 1,605 yards in 267 carries.
Q. WINNERS ASIDE, WHAT ARE THE FOUR MOST EXCITING TEAMS TO WATCH?
•Denison (Granville, Ohio) is one of two collegiate teams still using the single wing (Colorado College is the other). Coach Keith Piper, now in his 28th season, says, "As long as you don't have the dominant players, the ol' single wing's a thing that'll give you an edge."
•Wisconsin-River Falls is primarily a wishbone team, but also employs what Coach Mike Farley calls a "four-quarterback offense." In it, the quarterback, a halfback and two split backs are all likely to throw a pass. Farley says the four-quarterback formation may be called four or five times a game.
•For you air-game lovers, Occidental (Calif.), alma mater of ex-Buffalo Bill Jack Kemp, plans to throw at least 40 passes a game.
•If you prefer the ground game, try to catch Minnesota-Duluth. Last season the Bulldogs called 613 running plays in 10 games.
Q. BESIDES SLIPPERY ROCK (PA.) STATE COLLEGE, WHAT OTHER SMALLS DESERVE RECOGNITION BASED ON THEIR NAMES ALONE?
•In alphabetical order:
Kutztown (Pa.) State
Gustavus Adolphus, in Saint Peter, Minn., is a Lutheran college named after a Swedish king.
•Also, many smalls have catchy nicknames. Among animals alone there are:
Antelopes (Kearney State, Neb.)
Kangaroos (Austin College, Texas)
Gorillas (Pittsburg State, Kans.)
Ravens (Anderson College, Ind.)
Wasps (Emory & Henry, Va.)
A listing of non-animal favorites includes the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers, the Bethel (Kans.) Threshers, the Washburn Ichabods and, among junior colleges, the Scottsdale (Ariz.) C.C. Artichokes. The Artichokes, formerly the Drovers, got their name as the result of a student protest over athletic budgets. One of the leaders behind the protest movement even took to showing up at Scottsdale games decked out in a leafy artichoke costume.
For those who admire puns, there are the Pace Setters (N.Y.). But the most convoluted example of the genre has to be the University of Connecticut. U. Conn.'s nickname is the Huskies. Groan.
Of course, small-college coaches also think Sooners, Trojans and Fighting Irish are pretty funny names, too, and that Crimson Tide is a reddish detergent. Double groan.
Q. WHAT MAJOR CAREER RECORDS WILL BE BROKEN?
•After rushing for a I-AA freshman record 910 yards in 1979 and then gaining 1,622 yards last fall, Lorenzo Bouier of Maine is all but sure to become I-AA's alltime top rusher. And Bill LaFreniere of Northeastern returns after a 1980 season in which he rushed, caught passes and returned punts and kickoffs for 1,601 yards, bringing his career total to 2,898 in 144 attempts, a I-AA "all-purpose" record 20.1 yards a play. Back, too, are Eastern Kentucky's Jerry Parrish (113 plays for 2,224 career yards) and, natch, Trumaine Johnson (133 plays, 1,860 yards).
•Towson (Md.) State's Sean Landeta returns after winning Division II's punting title (43.4 yards a kick) and finishing tied for the lead in field goals, hitting 14 of 28 tries. In the 22 seasons the NCAA has kept kicking stats, Landeta is the first player ever to lead any division in both categories. He's also within shooting distance of Division II and Ill's career punting record average (44.5 yards), set in 1964-66 by Don Cockroft of Adams State (Colo.).
•Career return records are sketchy in the lower divisions, but no one is more thrilling to watch than Mike Askew of Kean College of New Jersey. Last fall he returned 10 kickoffs for 415 yards, a stunning 41.5-yard average, which was a II and III season record. Askew also led III in punt returns, with a 19-yard average. Only two other NCAA players have ever led their divisions in both categories.
•Bill Stromberg of Johns Hopkins caught 66 passes in 1980 to lift his career total to 180, 73 shy of the alltime II and III record set by Kenyon's Chris Myers between 1967 and 1970. By catching passes for 1,148 yards this season, Stromberg, a senior, also would become only the second receiver in NCAA history to haul in 4,000 yards of passes.
•With another season like 1980, St. Joseph's (Ind.) senior Quarterback Mike Houston will end up with a career 8,000 total yards—a sum reached so far by just two Division II or III players.
Q. WHAT ARE THE 10 MOST HEATED RIVALRIES BETWEEN SMALL COLLEGES?
•East-to-West: 1) Williams vs. Amherst; 2) Middlebury vs. Norwich; 3) Widener College vs. Franklin and Marshall; 4) Southern University vs. Grambling; 5) DePauw vs. Wabash; 6) Coe College vs. Cornell (Iowa); 7) Texas A&I vs. Southwest Texas State; 8) Colorado School of Mines vs. Colorado College; 9) Boise State vs. Idaho; 10) Cal-Davis vs. Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.
Amherst-Williams dates back to 1884, the oldest small-college rivalry. Colorado Mines-Colorado College began five years later and heated up fast when Mines students took to dynamiting Colorado's goalposts. And Idaho-Boise State reached the boiling point in 1973, when Idaho's defensive unit marched through Boise's locker room on its way to the field and chanted, "Kiss my ass." Grambling-Southern drew 76,653 fans in 1974, which is believed to be the largest small-college crowd in history. And consider the importance of the Franklin and Marshall-Widener series for a moment. F&M has lost 11 games in nine seasons, seven of them to Widener. Widener has lost nine games in nine seasons, two to F&M.
Bob Hilton, a Cedar Rapids Gazette sports reporter, says he'd never miss a Coe-Cornell clash. "Iowa gets maybe a fourth of its student body in its 60,000-plus crowds," he says. "Coe and Cornell probably draw 80% of their students. And there's more tradition. It's a game between student-athletes, real students."
Q. WHAT OTHER MATCHUPS WILL BE MOST INTERESTING THIS FALL?
•Wisconsin-Eau Claire at Wisconsin-Platteville. Last year Eau Claire led 33-0, but Platteville rallied in the second half and won 52-43. It was the greatest comeback victory in NCAA history and Eau Claire hasn't forgotten.
•Western Illinois at Eastern Illinois. Eastern was Western's doormat until Coach Darrell Mudra arrived three years ago. In his first season Mudra beat Western and went on to win the Division II national title. The next season Eastern was unbeaten and ranked No. 1 until it was upset by Western. Last fall, wouldn't you know it, Eastern avenged the loss by a 31-7 score.
•Cal Poly State-San Luis Obispo vs. Boise State. The 1980 Division II national champs face the 1980 Division I-AA national champs.
•Dayton vs. Eastern Kentucky. The 1980 Division III champs meet the 1980 Division I-AA runners-up.
•Michigan Tech at Northern Michigan. This one doesn't pit divisional champs against one another, but spectators might get to see 100 forward passes.
•Wisconsin-Stout visits Augustana (S. Dak.) College on Sept. 5. In 1978 Stout Coach Lyle Eidsness introduced his "Radar Defense," a curiosity that calls for all 11 defensive players to be in stand-up positions before the center snap. This fall Eidsness and his Radar are at Augustana. But Eidsness' successor at Stout, Bob Kamish, liked what he saw in Radar, and uses it, too. It will be the first game ever totally void of defensive down linemen.
Q. WHO ELSE WILL BE MOST PRODUCTIVE IN 1981?
•Well, there simply are no quarterbacks around to make folks forget Portland State's Neil Lomax, now a St. Louis Cardinal, but, among others, keep an eye on: 1) Bobby Hebert of Northwestern State (La.); 2) Scott Lindquist of Northern Arizona; 3) Ken Sweitzer of Connecticut; 4) Larry Michalski of Lehigh.
All of them completed 100 or more passes last season and connected on at least 50% of their attempts. In II and III, no quarterbacks figure to be more dangerous than Cal-Davis' Ken O'Brien (143 completions, 55.6%) and DePauw's Rob Doyle (174 completions, 59.2%).
•Among NCAA running backs, no fewer than 20 1,000-yard rushers from 1980 are back this season. The five most explosive, based on average-yards-per-carry, will be: 1) Dennis Mahan of Hampton Institute (8.0); 2) Milson Jones of North Dakota (6.9); 3) Gregg Trosky of Coe College (6.0); 4) Ken Jenkins of Bucknell (6.0); 5) Dean Doe of the Merchant Marine (5.6).
Q. WHOM DO THE PROS LIKE?
•Booker Reese, a 6'7" defensive end at Bethune-Cookman, runs the 40 in 4.7, and though he weighs 260 pounds, Philadelphia Eagle Personnel Director Carl Peterson says, "He's so quick off the ball, sometimes he isn't touched."
•Kelvin Murdock, a 5'11¾" flanker at Troy (Ala.) State (25 yards per catch last year), is expected to be drafted in the first or second round. Washington Redskin General Manager Bobby Beathard says Murdock has it all but size.
•Ricky Eberhart, Morris Brown's ace free safety, is "the best small-college prospect in the country," according to Tom Braatz, player personnel director of the Atlanta Falcons.
•Also high on pro draft lists: North Carolina A&T Defensive End James Williams, Tuskegee Linebacker Kenneth Woodward and Angelo State Linebacker Clayton Weishuhn.
"We look at 4,000 to 5,000 seniors each year, which makes it difficult to rate a junior player," says Dick Steinberg, New England's director of player development. Which means that the word on Trumaine might not get out until 1982.
Q. WHO ARE THE SMALLEST OF THE SMALLS?
•Teams: Probably Pillsbury Baptist Bible in Owatonna, Minn. It has 340 male students. Terry Price gets no salary for coaching, and the whole football budget is $6,000 a year. Bluffton College (Ohio) has 662 students, and about a sixth of them go out for football. Fisk, in Nashville, started last season with 35 players and finished with only 23. Grinnell (Iowa) College hasn't won five games in a season since 1970, and two years ago its backfield, averaging 165 pounds a man, outweighed the offensive line.
•Players: Austin Peay State (Tenn.) Tailback James (Tattoo) German is only 5'3½", 150 pounds. Tufts (Mass.) uses 5'8", 168-pound Dave (Weasel) Weiss at noseguard.
Probably the alltime smallest small-college player is Billy Barty, an actor today, who played flanker at Los Angeles City College in 1945. Barty is 3'9". But among the smalls, he's one of the giants.