Ann Stark, a legal secretary in Tallahassee, Fla., likes to recall her first encounter with her husband, Rohn. It was back in fourth grade in Pine River, Minn. Rohn (pronounced like John; Bud Stark dropped the "h" into his son's name because he wanted it to be distinctive) had just moved with his family from California to nearby Fifty Lakes.
"We were playing dodge ball one day during recess," Ann says, "and he got the ball and aimed it right at me. He hit me so hard I fell over and started crying. A bad start."
But certainly not an omen. Rohn Stark has continued to excel at recess activities, and Ann has been involved in one way or another. Rohn was Mr. Pine River High, starring in football, basketball and track (and even taking time out from track practice to pinch-hit for the baseball team). And, says Ann, "he has dimples like John Davidson." Ann, played by Tuesday Weld, was a football and basketball cheerleader.
Now the Starks live in a two-bedroom apartment in Tallahassee, where Rohn is a senior at Florida State, an All-America decathlete and college football's premier punter. In the Seminoles' 17-0 win over Louisville last Saturday, Stark punted eight times for an average of 42.9 yards—including a shanked boot that went out of bounds after just 29 yards. All in all, Stark is probably the best college punter since Ray Guy played for Southern Mississippi in the early '70s.
September 13, 1981
If NFL scouts have any doubts about Stark's kicking, they can check Ann for details. Every day after work last summer Rohn picked her up on his way to the practice field. She did two to three miles of jogging, he did his stretches and then she timed or measured his decathlon workouts and clocked the hang time of his punts.
An NFL punter starts to boast when his kicks hang for 4.9 seconds. Stark averages 5.1-5.2 in games. He averaged 45.2 yards for 57 punts last year; the average return of a Stark punt was a measly 5.2 yards. Moreover, Stark kicks left-footed. To returners, that means the ball is spinning the "wrong" way and is a little harder to handle; FSU opponents have fumbled about one of Stark's punts per game in his three-year career. And there is just one more thing that scouts drool over: Stark has never had a punt blocked.
Ann Stark knows all this, because she is one for details. She remembers their first date, for example. "It was November 18, 1974, when we were in 10th grade. We went to a movie, The Trial of Billy Jack, and went out for pizza at Shakey's." And she can tell you about his proposal, shortly after graduation. "That was on July 5, 1977. He asked me out to eat, at Bromley's Ten Mile Lake Inn, and on the way he parked by the lake and asked if I wanted to marry him. I told him he knew I did, and he got the ring out."
Ann then enrolled in a two-year course in court reporting at St. Cloud Business College, about 80 miles down the road from Pine River. Rohn, meanwhile, was headed for the Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs. He had always been interested, in flying—Bud Stark is a TWA pilot—and had received a conditional appointment to the academy. "It was kind of understood while we were dating that if he got an appointment, that's what he'd do," says Ann. "When it came I wasn't real thrilled, but I accepted it."
Eventually, Air Force doctors discovered that Stark has a slight curvature of the spine and could never fly in this man's Air Force; it would be too dangerous for him to use an ejection seat. So, he returned home in January of 1978.
What Stark didn't know was that his prep-school trigonometry professor and football coach, John Crowe, had sent game films of him to Florida State, where Crowe had been an All-America defensive back in 1958. Stark got a call from a Seminole coach in February. "I had barely heard of Florida State," he says, "but I went down and liked what I saw." He enrolled for the spring semester and competed in the high jump for FSU. In July he and Ann were married, and in the fall they moved to Tallahassee.
Now, three years later, Ann is looking forward to her husband's career in the NFL. "I try not to count the chickens before they hatch, and I'm not going to pin my hopes on it, but I'll tell you what: I can't wait to turn in my resignation at work."
The only thing that might get in the way is the decathlon. Rohn started to compete in that event in his sophomore year at FSU, and last spring finished eighth at the NCAA Track & Field Championships with 7,612 points. Early in Stark's decathlon career, Head Track Coach Dick Roberts asked Jim Long, the decathlon assistant, how his pupil was doing. Long was enthusiastic, saying he hadn't found anything yet that Stark couldn't handle, and added, "He made 12'6" in the vault today."
"Oh," said Roberts, "when did he start vaulting?"
"Yesterday," answered Long.
Several weeks later, Stark was reaching 15 feet using a Fosbury Flop at the top of his vault. In his second decathlon he scored a school-record 7,083.
If Stark can get over 8,000 points—his best events are the pole vault (a high of 16'9"), the high jump (6'10½") and the 100 meters (10.72)—he'll consider trying out for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. And if that happens, there are lawyers who see his case as a perfect test of the amateur regulations of the IOC. A professional in football, they would argue, isn't necessarily a professional in the decathlon, and Stark's case might be one of the best to take up because Stark really can compete in his two sports at the same time, and training in one does not abet the other.
It's likely Stark will go high in the NFL draft next spring. In an average year he would be a good bet to be taken in the first few rounds. But 1982 is supposed to be one of those "off" years, making Stark a near certainty to become the second "pure" punter (Guy is the other) ever to be picked in the opening round.
Ann would get a kick out of that.