LOUD AND CLEAR
Now hear this, all you people who think a deaf player can't make it in big-time college football: Nebraska defensive tackle Kenny Walker, who can barely hear the Cornhusker marching band when he's standing next to it, is bidding to become the first deaf player in Division I-A to make All-America. He could also become the first athlete with his disability to be selected in a high round of the NFL draft (Bonnie Sloan, a defensive tackle at Austin Peay, was taken in the 10th by the St. Louis Cardinals in 1973). A 6'4", 240-pound senior, Walker had a big game for the Huskers in last season's Fiesta Bowl, rushing the passer so fiercely that Florida State was flagged for holding him on three straight plays.
In spring practice Nebraska decided to alter its defensive alignment, partly to get Walker onto the field more often. Under the Huskers' old system, Walker often had problems picking up signals. Before each play he would learn the defensive scheme by reading the weakside linebacker's lips in the huddle. However, when an adjustment was made at the line of scrimmage, a teammate had to tap Walker on the hip to move him, or the middle guard had to give him a hand signal. The new 4-3 "Miami stack" doesn't require pass rushers to make so many adjustments, and that could help Walker become a star. "He's got the tools," says defensive coordinator Charlie McBride.
Those tools include a 4.58 40, and only 5.4% body fat.
September 2, 1990
Walker lost his hearing at the age of two after contracting spinal meningitis and running a high fever. Yet by the time he graduated from high school in Crane, Texas, he was All-State and was heavily recruited. He considered attending a college for the deaf, but finally decided on Nebraska not only because of its football program, but also because of its willingness to provide him with an interpreter. While Walker can read lips, when giving interviews he usually is accompanied by Mimi Mann, a sign-language interpreter, who works for the school's Handicapped Services Office.
NFL scouts have told Nebraska's coaches that they will be carefully watching Walker's progress this season, and Walker is just as curious about the pros. "I'd like to try it," he says, and McBride thinks he has a shot. "He's probably got as much ability as any defensive lineman we've had," McBride says. "People who know the situation here know I couldn't just stop everything because of his deafness. But even if I did have to do that, the kids would understand because Kenny is one of our main guys."
THE BIG QUESTION
After Penn State accepted the Big Ten's invitation to join the conference on June 4, commissioner Jim Delany said that the league would have a new name within 60 days. However, he backed off on that statement almost immediately. "We're just not ready to change our name now," he said. "We're going to study it. We're probably going to get an outside firm."
That seems an unneccessary expense, now that the Minneapolis Star Tribune, after asking its readers for suggestions, has received a bunch of good names for free. Among them: the Big Ten + One, the Big Ten + Northwestern and the Northern Lights Conference. Don't like any of those, Jim? Well, how about the Big Choke in the Rose Bowl Conference? The Five of One, Half a Dozen of the Other Conference? The Geographically Close to Notre Dame Conference?
One of the difficulties with surrendering the league's traditional name, says Delany, is that Big Ten "stands for a set of traditions and values. It's more than a reflection of the number of schools." He's also concerned that, in light of the conference restructuring that will almost certainly take place in the next year, some other league might snap up the Big Ten name and the cachet that attaches to it.
There would appear to be but one logical solution for this collection of cold-weather schools—the Big Chill?—and that is to keep the league to 10 members. Any guesses as to who might be asked to leave?
New Florida coach Steve Spurrier, asked what he said when introduced to Gator quarterback Kyle Morris, who was suspended last year for gambling, replied, "I told him, 'How in the world could you bet on Clemson against Duke?' " Spurrier, of course, coached the Blue Devils, 16-point underdogs, to a 21-17 upset of Clemson.
The heat that surrounds the Notre Dame-Miami rivalry was turned up another notch last month when Notre Dame began negotiating with Florida State for games in 1993 and '94. Notre Dame, you'll recall, declined to renew its series with Miami after this season's Oct. 20 game in South Bend, even though the Irish-Hurricane rivalry has developed into the game's best and has generated enormous national interest.
'it [Notre Dame's deciding to schedule Florida State] is extremely unfortunate because Notre Dame has always said that if they had an opening, they would contact us," said Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich.
Notre Dame's schedules are indeed full through 2004, but the potential openings developed when Penn State, looking forward to its move to the Big Ten, approached the Irish about getting out of its 1993 and '94 games in order to schedule a Big Ten team. Asked why Notre Dame didn't contact Miami first, assistant athletic director Roger Valdiserri said, "Do they [the Hurricanes] have openings in those years?"
The answer, at the moment, is no. although Miami could conceivably buy out contracts with lesser opponents—of which it has more than its share—to get Notre Dame back on the schedule. As for Florida State, the Seminoles have only 10 games firmed up for '93 and hope to create an opening in '94 by dumping an opponent already on the schedule.
Valdiserri does not think Miami has any reason to complain. "A football series is not like a marriage contract," he said. "In 1995 and '96, for example, we're interrupting our series with Michigan to play Ohio State. Because of the national scope of our alumni, we try to play all over the place."
The preseason Truth Hurts Award goes to LSU coach Mike Archer, who said this when asked about the pressure to win: "They can talk about education, but fans aren't paying $22 to see the guys throw their books out on the field. You can talk about your graduation rates, but they don't want to hear about it. That's a shame. But that's a fact of life."
As a quarterback at Cincinnati's fabled Moeller High, Scott Schaffner had a fellow named Ken Griffey Jr. to throw to one year. Now, as Schaffner prepares to begin his junior season at Minnesota, Griffey, 20, is an All-Star centerfielder for the Seattle Mariners.
"He's the best athlete I've ever seen," says Schaffner. "If he had decided to play football, he'd have started as a wide receiver. I told him that, and he said he doesn't like to get hit. For the money he's making, I don't blame him."
Schaffner, who also played baseball with Griffey, says, "There were times he'd hit a ball so far it was like a golf ball. We played on a field with no fence. You'd see outfielders 500 feet back, and still he'd pop it over their heads."
Wisconsin defensive tackle and team co-captain Don Davey (SI, Sept. 5, 1988) can become the first four-time first-team Academic All-America football player in the 38-year history of the award. Davey is working on his master's degree after getting his undergraduate degree last spring in mechanical engineering.... Jack Crowe is the first Arkansas assistant to be hired as head coach there since 1944.... New Kentucky coach Bill Curry, formerly the coach at Alabama, on how tough it was to please Alabama writers: "There was a joke going around that when I went on a fishing trip, the boat tipped over, but I got to shore by walking on water. The headline in the next day's paper read: CURRY FAILS AT SWIMMING."