You've heard the bad news about college football: agents, drug use, boosters bearing gifts, steroids, functional illiterates. They are undermining a sport that was once loved as much for its innocent pageantry as for its athleticism: its marching bands and sweatered cheerleaders, its huge crowds of raucous alumni, its garishly uniformed players waging imperfect battle on sunshiny fall afternoons. That was the old college football. That image has suffered.
But here's the good news. The best things about college football still exist. Approximately 45,000 athletes will play the game in divisions I-A, I-AA, II and III this fall, and how many of these young men do you suppose are not on steroids? Have not signed big-buck deals with solicitous agents or accepted under-the-table payments from nefarious boosters? Are getting an education they might not otherwise have been able to afford and are learning lessons in discipline, cooperation, goal achievement and time allocation that will serve them well in the future?
So we've assembled a few that we thought you might like to hear about. It's an all-star team of sorts, an honor roll of unsung players from mostly not-so-great teams. There are no Heisman front-runners in our lineup, and few will be spending New Year's at a major bowl. Another thing: Everyone on our team will graduate, or already has graduated, with his class, or will pop his eyes out trying. That's one of the things we like best about our guys. They actually go to class. The best thing about college football, you see, is the player.
Let's start with our offensive tackle, Joel Porter of Baylor. Fourth-generation Baylor, no less. His great-grandfather, Jesse B. Johnson, was a professor at the university from 1899 to 1929. Porter, All-Southwest Conference last year, will captain our offense. He will also be in charge of putting frog legs on our training table. A 6'4", 275-pound senior from Arkadelphia, Ark., Porter is a character with character. An accomplished bullfrog gigger and backyard naturalist, he has, at various times in his life, captured and kept as pets hognose snakes, scorpions and tarantulas. The frogs he eats. "They taste like chicken," he says. "I skin and clean 'em in the boat, take 'em home, then roll 'em in eggs and cornmeal, fry 'em up in oil. Mmmmmmm."
August 30, 1987
Porter's father, a former Baptist minister, is now a national consultant on poverty for the Home Mission Board of Atlanta. "Because they know my dad, schools and church groups have asked me to give antidrug speeches to kids every so often," says Porter, a sociology major (3.1 grade point average, All-SWC Academic Team) who intends to get a master's degree in counseling.
Posing as Dr. Death and the Death Tones, Porter and two friends once sang Louie, Louie and Twist and Shout on stage in Waco with a rock 'n' roll band called The Rhythm Rats. They got a nice round of applause. But his coach, Grant Teaff, thinks Porter's future is in football. Teaff says Porter could be the best offensive lineman he has ever coached.
Our weakside tackle is Jay Schimmel, a 6'5", 252-pound junior from Ole Miss—Jackson, Miss., is his hometown—with a 3.32 GPA in accounting. He runs a 4.9 40. but don't expect to see him leading any sweeps this fall on television: Mississippi is on probation. Twice named to the chancellor's honor roll (minimum requirement: a 3.75 average), Schimmel expects to interview with several of the Big Eight accounting firms this fall. But most of his energies will be devoted to football. "I cut back this semester. One of the courses I'm taking for credit is scuba diving," says Schimmel, "and I don't mind telling people I deserve it."
He is repulsed by the notion of eating fried frog legs during the football season. "That's the way people think in the South: fried pork chops, fried okra, fried catfish, fried this and that. It really isn't that good for you. We need a high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on this team." Schimmel, an accomplished cook, likes to whip up meals of grilled orange roughy (a fish), pasta with clam sauce and steamed broccoli—but never for teammates who, he says, wouldn't appreciate the effort.
While we're on the subject of food. our center is LSU's Nacho Albergamo. The only member of our all-unsung team from one of our Top 20 schools, the 6'2", 257-pound Nacho makes the squad because it is virtually impossible for a center, even the top returning center in the SEC, to become bigheaded from too much publicity. Albergamo's real name is Ignazio—he is of Italian ancestry—but he was saddled with Nacho as a child because it was easier to say. Logically enough, he also developed a taste for that Mexican fare. "I eat them like popcorn," Nacho confides. "It's not a major course."
Albergamo, a senior, is majoring in premed and zoology, with a 3.4 GPA. He also bench-presses 460 pounds and squats 625. After LSU, he would like to find a medical school with half-year programs, so that he can take a crack at the pros. He hopes eventually to go into orthopedics.
We have another future physician at tight end, Ball State's Ron Duncan. He's a 6'3", 250-pound senior who, in three years, has had just one B—in calculus. The rest were A's. On the field he has caught 87 passes for 924 yards and 6 touchdowns, the longest a 41-yarder. Duncan isn't exactly a burner, running the 40 in a civilized 5.07. "My feet look like they're moving slower than they are," he says.
Duncan, a first-team All-Mid-American Conference tight end, moved to guard—a totally new position—last year for the Purdue game. "We had some injuries," he recalls, "and one of my strong points is blocking. The coaches said, 'Don't worry, don't panic, don't quit the team, this isn't permanent.' " Although he would never admit it to the coaching staff, Duncan enjoyed his stint in the trenches. "It was different. I need to be challenged mentally. That's one of the reasons I want to get into medicine."
We'll pass a lot on our team, and we'll run patterns so complicated that defensive backs will need radar to keep from running into each other at full throttle. We'll hook 'n' lateral, do fly-pattern stop-and-sprint-backs, run trapezoidal routes, even rhombuses. Defensive coordinators will hate us.
One wide receiver is senior Marc Zeno, a sports administration major who took a course last spring in which he worked with Down's syndrome kids. Zeno has most every Tulane pass-catching record of significance; in 33 games he has caught 159 for 2,519 yards—a 15.8-yard average—and 12 touchdowns. This season he needs a very gettable 1,080 yards to pass Ron Sellers of Florida State (1966-68) as the top collegiate receiver of all time. But the Green Wave has won no more than four games in any of the last three seasons, giving Zeno zero notoriety. "I'm not really a deep threat," says the 6'3" 206-pounder. "But the intermediate route across the middle doesn't bother me at all."
We'll throw the bomb to J.D. Brook-hart, a 6-foot, 185-pound senior at Colorado State. A finance-real estate major with a 3.31 GPA, Brookhart made the All-WAC Academic Team last season and was one of the university's star orators in an antidrug and antialcohol speakers program that reached out to area schools and youth camps. A late bloomer in football, Brookhart was lightly recruited out of high school and walked on at BYU, but he didn't get much playing time. He transferred to CSU to be closer to his hometown of Englewood. In the past two seasons he has caught a total of 60 passes for 1,190 yards—a 19.8-yards-per-catch average. That puts him on a pace to break the pass-happy WAC's alltime per-catch mark of 16.1, held by John Jefferson of Arizona State, 1974-77.
If we can't have Superman at quarterback, we'll settle for Clark Kent look-alike Mike Greenfield of Northwestern. An electrical engineering major who spends four nights a week at the library, the bespectacled Greenfield has started 27 straight games for the Wildcats, eight of which have actually been victories. That is no small feat at the Bookworm U of the Big Ten. Greenfield passed and ran for 2,071 yards in total offense last year, third in the Big Ten behind Michigan's Jim Harbaugh and Michigan State's Dave Yarema, both of whom have departed. Greenfield's goals this year? "I'd like to get Northwestern some more victories, some more respect, and put us back on the football map," he says. "We do that and the bowl games will follow." Bowl games? Beautiful dreamer, come play for us.
At running back we'll rely heavily on Kenny Gamble, a 6-foot, 193-pound workhorse for Colgate. An international relations major, Gamble is already Colgate's alltime leading rusher (surpassing past and present NFLers Marv Hubbard, Mark van Eeghen and Rich Erin-berg) and has a chance, if he equals last season's performance, to finish as high as second in alltime NCAA career-rushing yardage, behind Tony Dorsett.
In '86, Gamble led Division I-AA with 1,816 yards rushing and, including return yardage and pass receptions, had 2,425 all-purpose yards, the best single season in the division's history. He averaged 165.1 yards rushing per game and 5.9 yards a carry. Gamble also scored 21 touchdowns and now has 270 points in his career, just 38 points less than the I-A A career record. Numbers, numbers. The quality we really like about this guy is his blocking ability. "He's a very physical player, and completely unselfish," says coach Fred Dunlap. "Kenny's admired by everybody on our football team. That's why he's our captain."
Sharing the backfield with Gamble will be Wake Forest's Chip Rives, "the slowest fullback in the ACC," according to his own assessment. He is also the ACC's leading returning scorer, with 12 career touchdowns. Besides, who needs speed when you're being towed by eight tiny reindeer? A fifth-year senior who is pursuing his M.B.A. at Wake Forest's Babcock School of Management, Rives started a Santa's Helper program last year in Winston-Salem that provided Christmas toys to some 45 underprivileged families.
"I got the idea from my mom, who sent me an article about a woman in San Antonio who had done the same thing," says the 6'2", 214-pound Rives, who donned a Santa outfit. "I had about 50 volunteers helping me. We raised more than $3,000, bought the presents and wrapped them, and got a list of needy families through the social services. Classes ended the 16th, and we were delivering until the 23rd. This year we're going to try to double it to 80 or 90 families." We've heard of backs who carry the mail. Rives does them one better.
Sometimes even this team will have to punt. In those rare instances, University of Pennsylvania senior Dave Fassnacht will get the call. Last year he had 28 of his 47 punts downed inside the 20, which is a far more significant stat than his misleading 34.5-yard average.
A finance major at Penn's Wharton School, Fassnacht had a perfect 4.0 average his junior year. He hopes to be a portfolio manager for top NFL draft choices and other affluent clients, and to prepare for those heady days he worked this summer as an intern for the investment firm of Kidder, Peabody in Philadelphia. For the aggressive investor he recommends the purchase of Intel, Jaguar and NCR. For himself, he recommends practice: Every afternoon you can find him at Franklin Field booming spirals while his wife. Tam, clocks his hang time and holds for placekicks.
Now the defense, which will be captained by Chad Hennings of Air Force. Coach Fisher DeBerry says the 6'5", 260-pound defensive tackle is "maybe the best talent ever to play here." Hennings runs a 4.65 40—faster than the Air Force quarterback and on a par with the wide receivers. He can bench-press 440 pounds and squat more than 600, and he has pushed more than 1,000 pounds on the hip sled. Hennings averaged 9 tackles a game last year, made 20 for losses, and is within 15 tackles of the all-time Air Force Academy record.
You think this guy's an athlete? He was the Iowa state heavyweight wrestling champion in high school and was also an all-state punter. Most impressive, Hennings was one of 12 Wing Staffers among Air Force juniors, the most prestigious leadership post available to Academy third-year cadets. A financial management major, Hennings made the Superintendent's List, an elite assemblage that reflects academic excellence as well as military leadership.
Pro teams are drooling to get at Hennings, but he has a five-year active-duty obligation—eight if he qualifies as a pilot. "Professional football never entered my head," Hennings says of his decision to attend the Academy. "I thought there were more important things in life. Sure, I'd like to try it. But T have an obligation to my government, and I intend to fulfill it." Our defensive captain will be a second lieutenant when he graduates.
Scott Thompson of The Citadel is the other defensive tackle. A fifth-year senior with a degree in business administration, Thompson is working toward his M.B.A. by taking night classes after practice. He turned down $32,000-a-year offers from two leading accounting firms to play football this year.
"They gave me T-shirts, calculators, attachè cases," Thompson says. "Those firms recruited me more heavily than [colleges did] when I was coming out of high school." Voted the Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 1986, the 6'5". 270-pound Thompson made 183 tackles—23 against North Carolina. "He's one of the most intense players I've ever been around," says The Citadel's coach, Charlie Taaffe. "He plays in almost a rage."
We'll put Hawaii's Al Noga at nose-guard, even though he spends more time at tackle for the Rainbow Warriors. At 6'2", 260, Noga is compact and fast; he averaged 1.2 sacks per game last season. A sociology major who is also studying music, he has lived in Hawaii since he was four years old, having moved there from American Samoa.
"Football in Hawaii is very big," Noga says. "If we win the WAC this year, the people will go crazy. They'll party out. Even before the games, they're celebrating. They celebrate with ti leaves. They wave them in the air like pom-poms, only ti leaves are better because you don't have to make them. You just pick them." The free-spirited Noga will be in charge of desserts at our training meals. His specialty is fa'alifo, a Sa-moan dish made of coconut milk, breadfruit, taro and banana.
Our three linebackers are Ken Lang of Montana State, John Spellacy of Marshall and Chris Gaines of Vanderbilt. A business finance major, the 6'2", 230-pound Lang grew up in Miles City, Mont., (pop. 9,602) and attended a high school—since closed because of dwindling enrollment—in which 36 of the 45 boys played on the football team. He has led MSU in tackles each of the last two years. Spellacy, a 6'1", 215-pound junior, made 105 tackles for Marshall last season. Twice named to the dean's list, he plans to attend law school (Spellacy's father is a judge in Ohio), and he is active in Volunteers for Youth, spending time each week with a troubled or underprivileged youngster.
Gaines was Vanderbilt's top tackier last season, with 119, 81 solo. At 6 feet, 233 pounds, he is one of the strongest players in the country for his size. Gaines can bench-press 420 pounds and squats an incredible 661 pounds. A phys-ed major, Gaines, whose brother Greg is the starting linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, hasn't taken a week off from weight training in six years.
Gary Richard of Pitt will play in our secondary. A communications major with 4.5 speed, Richard, who hails from Denver, likes to read psychology books before going to bed. He is particularly interested in sports psychology. "I've learned about body language, and it helps me," says Richard. "Especially late in the game when receivers are tired, they give off nonverbal clues. If they come out of the huddle slow and their mouthpiece is out, I look for the run. But if they're jumpy and edgy and they come out quick, it's probably going to be a pass."
San Diego State's Clarence Nunn, another of our defensive backs, is among the best in the country. He's a marketing major, and his hobbies include bass fishing and flying kites. "I'm still a kid at heart," he says. Nunn's cheerful nature was sorely tested last year when he failed the NCAA-administered drug test before the Holiday Bowl and was ineligible to play in the game. "Christmas night the athletic director told me I tested positive for methamphetamines. I asked, 'What's that?' He said, 'Speed.' I waited for him to laugh. Then I finally realized, 'You guys are serious.' "
Nunn had been using a Vick's nasal inhaler, which contains traceable amounts of methamphetamines, for flu.
"I've never used drugs of any sort," says Nunn, a member of the Campus Crusade for Christ. "But the NCAA's position was, 'We don't care how it got into your system.' It was devastating, to say the least. But it taught me something, too. I had been taking football for granted, and for the first time I realized how quickly it could be taken away. Now I'm working harder than ever."
Duke safety Mike Diminick rounds out the secondary. A 5'10," 180-pound junior, he was second on the Blue Devils in tackles last season with 103. Like Spellacy, Diminick is a member of Volunteers for Youth. A premed student, he has a GPA of 3.875. He is one of the two students on Duke's athletic council, an advisory board to the president.
We've left a few positions open, naturally. We're firm believers in walk-on candidates making good and give each and every one of them a long and equitable look. One thing's for certain: There are some darned good players out there nobody's ever heard of. We're particularly hopeful that a Romance language major from some small soccer-playing nation will suddenly appear to kick our field goals. It's a lovely thought, but no matter. If she doesn't, we'll still have a fine team.