On the first weekend of May, Kenny Major, 23, sat down with his wife, Stephanie, to discuss the choice that lay ahead. Pro football or business? The Miami Dolphins or Aetna Life & Casualty?
Major, a 6'4", 240-pound tight end, had been invited to Miami for a free-agent tryout: The Dolphins would offer him a two-year contract starting at $65,000—if he made the team. Major had just two days to report to camp.
The New Orleans Saints had made a similar offer, but there were other opportunities to consider. An economics and managerial studies major with a 3.4 grade point average, Major had been interviewed by more than 50 companies and had received 12 offers, including the two in football. "Steph and I drew up plus-minus charts," Major says. "We considered pro football by the same criteria we used with the other businesses, factoring in salary, location, long- and short-term goals, job security and gut instinct. When we added up the pros and cons, Aetna was the choice by far."
June 7, 1987
Insurance? Over the snazzy, big-bucks world of professional pigskin? "It's not just a job I chose," says Major, one of only 10 college graduates hired by Aetna's employee-benefits division out of some 3,000 applicants. "It's a career."
Five years ago, Major wanted nothing more out of life than to play in the NFL. A star quarterback and top student at Edison High School in his hometown of Huntington Beach, Calif., Major chose Kansas over some 20 other schools so he could work under John Hadl, the former NFL quarterback, who recruited him. However, shortly after Major accepted the KU scholarship, Hadl took a job with the L.A. Rams.
That was Major's first lesson in reality. The second came when he separated his right shoulder and broke his collarbone as a freshman. After the injury healed, Major discovered his arm no longer had the whip in it. "I'd picked up and moved 2,000 miles to play college and, eventually, pro football, and then—bang!—I couldn't throw the ball like I used to. I was forced to grow up quick."
He left KU ("I was unhappy with the education I was getting") and enrolled at Golden West Junior College in Huntington Beach. He had gained weight while rehabilitating his shoulder, and he decided to switch positions—to tight end. "I wanted a fresh start," he says. "All quarterbacks think they have good hands. And I was big and pretty quick [he ran a 4.65 40 at Rice]. All I really had to work on was my blocking." Major mastered his new role quickly, and became a J.C. All-America.
Georgia, LSU, Michigan and other powerhouses came knocking. "Without naming names, I had some illegal offers—to fly my parents to games, spending money for me, a place to stay. As soon as I heard them, I crossed the schools off my list. I wanted a lot of avenues to choose from, not just football. I'd learned from my mistakes the first time around. I was looking pure academics."
Though Rice did have that, it certainly didn't offer a chance at a national title. With 2,600 undergraduates, it is one of the smallest schools playing Division I-A football and among the minority of Southwest Conference members that are above suspicion when it comes to recruiting violations and under-the-table payments. "At Rice they're looking for the student-athlete, not just the athlete," says Major. "I never felt like a piece of beef with a meat hook in my side."
It's been 23 years since Rice had a winning record on the gridiron, and in Major's two years the Owls went 3-8 and 4-7. "Rice is known for its band," says Major, "which I've never seen—the M-O-B: Marching Owl Band. Our fight song is Louie, Louie. They do things at halftime like hand out huge dollar bills to members in SMU uniforms."
Major loved playing football at Rice. He wasn't bitter about losing: He and his teammates took pride in knowing they were working as hard as they could work, and that they were improving. His personal high points were the Owls' season-ending upsets of Air Force and Houston. "We went out a winner," he says. "The fact that I had such a positive experience with football at Rice had a lot to do with turning down the offers from the Dolphins and Saints. I felt like I was quitting when I was ahead."
And the nagging question, Could I have made it in the bigs? "That really didn't apply to me," says Major. "I saw football as a means to an end, a way to open doors. I think it helped me get this job, because it showed I could excel in more than one area. I worked 35, 40 hours a week at football, plus studying. You're always tired, but you learn to allocate your time. I think Aetna recognized that kind of commitment."
His starting salary, including bonuses, will be in the upper 30's. "In three years I'll be making as much as I would have in my option year in football," says Major. "I realize it's all come to an end, both school and football. I'm going to miss it. I've got good memories, but I've got other interests. I'd like to do a triathlon. I've studied karate some. I like to ski. And it'll be fun to finally see what a football band is like."
Northern Arizona University
POSITION WANTED: As juvenile probation officer. Summa cum laude NAU grad. Criminal justice major, emphasis in corrections, 4.0 GPA. First-team Academic All-America, No. 2 scorer/rebounder for Lady Lumberjacks. Can start after honeymoon, end of July.
The achievements listed above belong to Tracey Barnes, 22, scholar, athlete, Renaissance woman, who, it should be noted, has not yet resorted to the classifieds for employment. Barnes, a 5'8" erstwhile forward/guard, is looking for a job, but—truth be told—not very hard. Since May 15, when she graduated from Northern Arizona, she has been busy planning her wedding and furnishing an apartment. And she misses basketball.
On a quiet Memorial Day in her hometown of Albuquerque, she is sitting in a car with her fiancè, Leroy (Red) Montano, 31, a Hyster forklift driver for General Electric, watching a pickup basketball game at a local playground. "I just love this game," she says. "On the court, women are just as rough as men. That's the good thing about it. You can let it all out, then go back to being a lady. I met Red playing pickup basketball."
Tracey and Red first noticed each other three years ago, on the court at the University of New Mexico's Johnson Gym. It was hate at first sight. "I thought he was a jerk with a big ego," says Tracey. The feeling was mutual. "I thought she was a geek, a doorknob," says Red. "It was a guys' playing field, and Tracey was playing with the guys. At the time, I wasn't used to it."
He is now. After a subsequent pickup game, they went out for a Coke, talked for about three hours and reevaluated their first impressions. "I'll tell you what," says Red, "I'd rather have her on my team than a lot of the guys."
The youngest of Bill and Marlyn Barnes' three children, Tracey went to her first basketball game—to watch the UNM Lobos—when she was 5, the same year she started reading. She took up the flute at 8 and the bassoon a few years later. She started running track when she was 10. At 11 she was lifting weights, and at 12 she finished sixth in a national pentathlon meet. "I always put a lot of pressure on myself," says Barnes, "even when I was little. I guess you could say I wanted to be perfect."
She chose to attend Eldorado High School, which was in another school district, because it had a wind ensemble. "It was like an honors orchestra," says Barnes. "At the time, I was thinking music, not sports." She played bassoon in the ensemble and flute, bass drum and cymbals in the marching band. She also ran track and played basketball, taking part in only two losing games in four seasons and leading Eldorado to the state championship in her sophomore and junior years. "We used to beat other teams by 80 points," she says.
She graduated from high school with a 4.37 GPA out of a possible 4.40. "I got one B-plus, in English," she says. "I'd been away for five days for the state basketball tournament, and the teacher gave an exam on a book we'd been reading. He wouldn't give me the time to catch up. I had to take that exam right then." She had to settle for salutatorian instead of valedictorian.
Barnes spent the next three years in various southwestern schools, going from the University of Arizona to UNM to New Mexico Junior College in. Hobbs, where she helped the team to a 16-8 record. NAU coach Dave Brown, who recruited her as a junior, was very impressed by her ability to work hard and play hard. "She was as self-motivated as any student I've had in 25 years of coaching," says Brown. "She was an exceedingly aggressive player. She played basketball like she studied—4.0."
And she learned the ways of the world. "There was one game," she says, "where a member of my team would not pass me the ball. I was scoring, and she couldn't take that. I talked to my dad after the game, and he said, 'That's real life. You've got to watch out for people like that, and you've got to stand up for yourself.' You learn things like that playing a team sport. The other side of the coin is learning to work together."
In her two years at NAU, the Lady Lumberjacks didn't exactly fell opponents. During her first year the team went 17-8, and Barnes averaged 5.8 points and 1.5 rebounds a game; this season the team was 11-14, with Barnes averaging 14 points and 5.54 rebounds.
During her playing career, Tracey saw Red only on weekends, when she could make the six-hour drive from NAU's Flagstaff campus to Albuquerque. "Sometimes I felt guilty putting him through that," she says. "I did a lot of second-guessing. Like, Is it worth maybe losing somebody so important to me to play a game? But he knew how important basketball was to me." And Red eased her mind by telling her, "Don't worry about it. I'll be here for you."
And so he is. And so is the world after college hoops. "I'd like to start out working with juveniles," Barnes says of her plans for the future. "They're a lot more impressionable. And with sports so popular, I could be a role model for them. I could play one-on-one with them or teach them how to shoot. I want to be able to give them something they can do that will help them get out on their own."
Mount Union College
Scott Gindlesberger's eyes are dramatically blue. Bluer than the sky last week over Hilton Head, S.C., where he was vacationing with his parents and relatives. Bluer even than the gently lapping Atlantic. Let's be done with this. His eyes are Paul Newman blue, O.K.?
But far more important is that those eyes are bright and alert and thoughtful and clear. They are not—and we don't mean to insult a whole category of athletes here—the eyes of your average college football player. But then Gindlesberger is by no means your average football player.
He has been wildly successful. Last year he quarterbacked tiny (1,050 students) Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, to a perfect 10-0 regular season. He passed for a school-record 2,157 yards. He directed the Purple Raiders to the top total-offense mark in Division III—4,528 yards. He was voted most valuable offensive back and the top student-athlete in the Ohio Athletic Conference. He was all-conference, All-America, all-academic, all-wonderful.
So what do you think, Scott, of achieving such success? Says he, "I read somewhere that success is not a destination but a journey. I believe that." If true, Gindlesberger, 22, has gotten off to a helluva successful start on the trip through life.
And football is clearly in his rear-view mirror. Says Gindlesberger, "I've gone as far as I can go in football, so now it's on to bigger and better things." And so, come June 30, he will become an assistant staff accountant for the Big-8 firm of Ernst & Whinney in Canton, Ohio, for slightly more than $20,000 a year. He can hardly wait. He is already playing shortstop on the firm's softball team—and, as a rookie, carrying the bats and balls.
Says Gindlesberger, whose father, Don, is a CPA and controller for a fishing-lure manufacturer, "You need to get a solid education, something to use the rest of your life, because you can't use athletics the rest of your life. Athletics teaches discipline, commitment and fellowship, but when people are looking for potential employees, they look for those who can also communicate." Though the 6'2", 190-pound quarterback had hoped—they all do—the pros might give him a chance, he admits, "I am a dreamer, but I'm not unrealistic."
When Gindlesberger graduated last month with a major in accounting and a minor in computer science, his GPA was 3.853. He ranked fifth among 170 graduates. He was magna cum laude. And he was disappointed. Gindlesberger had hoped to graduate summa cum laude, which requires better than 3.9, but he had a foul-up in College Writing. He got a B. He also floundered to three B-pluses. His other 39 course grades were A's.
Scott Gindlesberger is, make no mistake, one of this land's best and brightest, a guy for whom football was a part of the experience, not the whole experience. "If I had to do it all over again, I would," he says, "because football was so much fun. But yesterday is dead and gone. That's why we have scrapbooks. The new challenges are tomorrow."
At Mount Union, he was eclectic. He joined a fraternity, Phi Kappa Tau, and became the president; he was president of the Inter-Fraternity Council; he was president of Tau Pi Phi, the business honor society; he was voted outstanding senior man. On and on. Says former football coach Ken Wable, "He took advantage of the social, academic and athletic areas. He really got his money's worth out of college." He also worked during school and vacations.
But it hasn't been all blue skies. At Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) High School, Gindlesberger quarterbacked the team to a 3-7 record in his senior year. That was enough to frighten away all college recruiters. Gindlesberger's 4.9 nonspeed in the 40 also was a minus. So, too, was his lack of vertical jump.
Mount Union was at least cordial. There are no athletic scholarships in Division III, but Gindlesberger did get a $1,000-a-year academic scholarship to offset some of the $10,200 tuition. His parents, back home in Cuyahoga, were stuck with the deficit financing. When Gindlesberger got to Mount Union in 1983, Tony Colao, a transfer from Navy, had the quarterback job. Then came another transfer, Scott Woolf from Ohio State, who held the position for two more years. Gindlesberger sat. And sat. "You have to be persistent and patient," he says now. "And if something is easy, you have to ask yourself, 'Was it worth it?' "
It was not easy. Gindlesberger put in 31½ hours a week on football. Despite not having played a single significant down, he was elected one of the Raiders' four captains by his teammates just before his senior year—a measure, says coach Larry Kehres, "of his character, not his performance." The next season, Gindlesberger performed.
At Hilton Head, he leans over a balcony, looking far out into the ocean blue, and says softly, "If I am happy in this life, that will be plenty good enough for me. There's always a bright side to everything. That's why I love to whistle." And he whistles away, delighted to anticipate poring over financial statements instead of fretting over third-down audibles.
—DOUGLAS S. LOONEY
Three years ago, when Derek Caracciolo was about 50 games into his athletic scholarship, he began to think that his future probably wasn't in pro basketball. The sophomore swing-man was a skinny 6'8" and starting every game for the Bisons, but he was averaging only six points and five rebounds. At 23, he was also the oldest player on the team.
"I thought I had the skills and the ability to make the NBA," says Caracciolo, "but I saw my limitations, too. Very few ever get there." He was probably right. The only organization that drafts players who average six points and five rebounds is the Army.
Caracciolo, in fact, was in the Air Force when he figured out that a college education is a pretty good thing. As a 17-year-old airman, he watched 22-year-old Academy grads who had entered the service as second lieutenants give orders to 50-year-old master sergeants. "Those young brats had been having a ball in college," he observed, "yet the minute they joined the Air Force, they instantly got put in a position of authority." A degree, Caracciolo decided, was an invitation to manipulate the system.
Caracciolo was born in Trinidad and Tobago, moved to Newark when he was 14 and graduated from Vailsburg High at 16. He followed his brother Gregory into the Air Force six months later, and worked mostly as a mental-health counselor in a drug and alcohol unit at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Md.
He played lots of basketball in his off-time and became good enough so that toward the end of his four years in the Air Force he was scouted by colleges. Georgetown offered him a scholarship but not a chance to start. Howard offered him both. Howard was also where Eric Williams, the first chief minister of Trinidad and Tobago, had taught social and political science. So, without even seeing the Washington campus, Caracciolo signed a letter of intent. "I was fascinated by the idea that athletics could pay for my whole education," he says.
On May 9, Caracciolo became the first of the five players who joined the team in 1982 to graduate. Two others have dropped out, two are still in school. "The first couple of years of college spoil an athlete," Caracciolo says. "Most things are handed to you. You're so pampered you lose focus of all the advantages you have been given. Then reality sinks in with grades and stuff, and it hits you that you haven't held up your part of the bargain. That's when athletes become despondent and quit."
Caracciolo credits Air Force discipline with helping him to stick it out. "It taught me to prioritize," he says. He was punctual and always handed in his assignments on time. In fact, in his first two years at Howard he didn't miss a class. Perfect attendance was part of Caracciolo's strategy to get as much out of college as possible. "Psychologically, it works on the instructor," he confides. "He sees you have the desire to get out of bed and go to class and gives you the benefit of the doubt when grading time comes around." He took lots of notes, too. "Instructors like you to give back what they said," he explains. "It shows you're paying attention. It feeds their egos. They think, Hey, there's a guy quoting me! It feels pretty good."
Caracciolo's strategy succeeded. A communication-arts major, he finished with a 3.15 GPA. "I always thought the only purpose of going to class was to get an A," he says. "I understand now that it's good to get an A, but it's also good to actually get something out of the class."
He has a pragmatic, not to say cynical, view of things. "College lets you develop a network of contacts that will carry you through life," he says. "It's not how much talent you have, but who you know that puts you in places." It worked for Caracciolo. Last year Edward Hill, Howard's sports information director, got him a summer internship as a clerk in The Washington Post's advertising services department. The Post took him on full-time in the same job on May 26.
"Now I'm in a position to do all kinds of things," he says. "A degree gives me a lot more to bargain with. With communications, I could go to the corner store and create a p.r. job for myself."
Caracciolo turned down a chance to play basketball in West Berlin for $40,000 a year. "I'd love to see Europe," he says, "but not from a sweaty standpoint, chasing balls and buses. And anyway, when I came back to the real world, I'd still have to find a job."
Caracciolo's next move is to get into Howard's School of Law. "When I started college, my only ambition was to make a million dollars," he says. "Now I'd be just as happy with a typical American dream house, a wife, kids and a white picket fence. Basketball was a means to an end. It got me to college and made my days there interesting and memorable. I came out with no broken bones, chronic back pains or permanent ailments. Instead of college and basketball exploiting me, I exploited them. I think I got the better of the deal."