A Gamer's Goodbye
Rusty Medearis, Miami's sixth-year senior defensive end, retired last week. Though he had reclaimed his starting spot this season after being sidelined for nearly two years with a severe injury to his left knee, Medearis said he came to the decision because of chronic pain. His injury—which occurred when an Arizona lineman fell on his knee in September 1992—was so catastrophic that a doctor warned him that another similar blow could cause his leg to have to be amputated.
It's also true that Medearis was not performing up to the high standard he set before the injury—very few able-bodied linemen could. Since 1989 he played in 27 games and had 22 sacks. Last month Medearis, who hails from Ozark, Mo., reminisced about one of his first practices in Coral Gables: "I became so discouraged that I went to a corner of the field and started bawling. Finally I said to myself, I'm going to make it so that Miami feels it absolutely needs me on the field in order to win." With Medearis in the lineup the Hurricanes were 25-2.
Last Thursday, secure in the knowledge that he had met the challenge of returning to the team, he said goodbye. At dusk on Friday he climbed aboard his black Honda motorcycle in search of a few days at the beach and rode off into the sunset. Medearis left the game the way he played it: on his own terms.
Before he was a Badger, he wore a badge. Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez spent his first two years after graduating from Nebraska as a member of the Lincoln Police Department. "I was involved in the longest high-speed chase in the history of the Lincoln police," says Alvarez. "It was a long time, 45 minutes, and it was high-speed, 110 miles per hour. My partner spun him out at one point. We thought we had the fugitive blocked in a gas station, but he came out. We even shot out his tires, but he kept on going."
And so it was that Alvarez could easily understand the frustration his defense felt last Saturday night at Folsom Field in Boulder. Colorado, fueled by quarterback Kordell Stewart's 301 yards of total offense, ran away from the Badgers 55-17, turning what was to be a tight Top 10 battle into Boulder-dash. "With this offense," said Stewart afterward, "if everyone's doing what he's supposed to do, I don't think anybody can stop this team."
Wisconsin certainly couldn't, but give the Badgers time; the Buffaloes have a few years' head start on them in turning a program around. Like Colorado coach Bill McCartney, Alvarez inherited a team, in 1990, that had had fewer than seven wins over the previous three years. Four seasons later Wisconsin was 10-1-1 and the Rose Bowl champion.
In the meantime, Colorado had been fairly quiet—if a 36-9-4 record over four seasons can be considered quiet—since McCartney guided it to a share of the national title in 1990. But the Buffaloes are making big noise again, and Stewart, a 6'3" senior from Marrero, La., has been the brassiest performer of them all. A gifted runner, Stewart also has far too much passing touch to wear the label "option quarterback." And the new coach of quarterbacks and receivers in Boulder, 33-year-old Rick Neuheisel, a former UCLA quarterback, has done much to unleash Stewart's talents.
Neuheisel, who as a volunteer coach at his alma mater did a fair job of molding Troy Aikman when Aikman was the Bruin quarterback, has also improved Stewart's game preparation. For example, at Neuheisel's urging, Stewart buries his head in a towel while sitting in the locker room before every game. "That's so he can concentrate on what he's about to do," says Neuheisel. "We don't need him to be leading pregame cheers."
Stewart acknowledges the benefits of Neuheisel's advice, though he contends that different games require different degrees of preparation. Next up for Colorado: Michigan. "Ann Arbor, whoa," says Stewart. "I think I'll need a beach towel for that one."
Out of the Woods
A week earlier he'd been running into trees. An hour earlier he'd been mistaken for a student trainer. And now, on Aug. 19, Hayes Rydel—who had been admitted to TCU only that day—found himself lined up against the Horned Frogs' orneriest fullback, Koi Woods, in something called "the gauntlet drill."
"He came right at me and tried to bowl me over," says Rydel. I did the best I could, and he went backward. I was like, Yeah, this is my team."
The Horned Frogs are glad he lee Is that way. After three games Rydel, a minuscule noseguard at 6'2", 235 pounds, is fifth in the Southwest Conference in tackles, with 34.
Rydel came to TCU out of nowhere. "I always wanted to play major-college football, but I was a 190-pound noseguard at [Arlington's] Sam Houston High," says Rydel. After spending two years at Navarro Junior College in Corsicana—where he did not start—he began training to walk on at TCU. "There is no way I could afford college," he says. "I needed a scholarship, and I didn't want to sit the bench. I have my dreams."
To help make those dreams come true, Rydel would get into full pads and use the trees in a park in Arlington as tackling dummies. "I'd get a running start of about 10 yards, wrap 'em up or practice spin moves," he says. "And you know what? They're very stable."
When Horned Frog coach Pat Sullivan learned what Rydel was putting himself through, he advised the young man that he would be much more likely to make the team if he was actually enrolled at the school. The day he was admitted. Sullivan gave him a tryout. When he walked into the locker room, Rydel was asked by a future teammate, "Hey, man. can I have a towel?"
He then went out and flattened Woods (the player, not the trees) and five days later was awarded a scholarship. When first-string noseguard Brian Brooks broke his right leg in the opener against North Carolina, Rydel went in. He had 13 tackles in the 27-17 loss to the Tar Heels, nine as the starter the next week in a 44-29 win over New Mexico and 12 in Saturday's 31-21 win versus Kansas.
"I've been playing football my entire life," says Rydel. "I haven't always started, but I certainly have never quit. "
Whistling in the Dark
Given enough time—in this case, two days—Big Ten officials are sure to make the proper call. On Sept. 12 the conference admitted that its officials had erred in awarding Stanford running back Mike Mitchell a touchdown during the Cardinal's 41-41 tie at Northwestern two days earlier. Mitchell had clearly fumbled short of the goal line.
A week earlier Big Ten officials had taken some well-deserved heat for a few other calls: In the Cincinnati-Indiana game Bearcat wideout James Scott was unfairly flagged for excessive celebration (he raised his arms after a catch); and two questionable fumble calls against Boston College abetted Michigan's cause. In both games the Big Ten school won.
Thus last week's admission of guilt was refreshing. It showed that Big Ten officials, while flawed, are at least impartial in their incompetence.
The New Cradle
For years Miami of Ohio—which nurtured Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler and Ara Parseghian, among others—has been called the cradle of coaches. But now it seems that Snohomish (Wash.) County, on the shores of Puget Sound, has supplanted it.
This season Washington coach Jim Lambright will match headsets with three fellow graduates of Snohomish high schools. "Makes you wonder, doesn't it," says Lambright, Everett High '61. The Huskies' trip to Miami on Saturday pits Lambright against fellow Everett alum Dennis Erickson ('65), and later this season he'll face Cal, coached by Keith Gilbertson (Snohomish High '66), and Washington State, coached by Mike Price (Everett '64).
"How about the hatchery of college coaches?" suggests Pink Erickson, who would be the warden of the hatchery: He was backfield coach at Everett when Lambright played there; Price was his assistant when Pink was freshman coach at Washington State; and Gilbertson and Pink were on the staff at Idaho under head coach Dennis Erickson, Pink's son.
"Dennis always wanted to be a coach," says Pink. "Mike's and Keith's dads were coaches too. Jim's dad was a fisherman. but Jim was easily the most authoritative and accomplished of the four."
Still, Lambright, the eldest, was the last of the four to become a head college coach, taking over in Seattle in August 1993, when Don James stepped down. "You can't figure these things," says Pink. "Dennis has won two national championships. And yet I remember when he was in high school thinking to myself, I hope he does well enough to be a high school coach himself one day."
Players of the Week
Offense: UNLV wide receiver Randy Gatewood, a senior, set NCAA records for receptions and yards receiving in a game as he caught 23 passes for 363 yards in a 48-38 loss to Idaho.
Defense: Free safety Greg Myers, a junior at Colorado State, intercepted two passes, returning one 30 yards for a TD, in a 28-21 defeat of BYU, the Rams' first over the Cougars since '86.
Small Schools: Grady Benton, a junior quarterback at West Texas A&M, completed 41 of 69 passes for 538 yards and eight TDs as the Buffaloes beat Howard Payne 59-56 in a Division II game.