But Billy Austin, and his startling development into one of the most gifted football players in the land, changed all this. As a sophomore in the single-wing system which John Stiegman brought over from Princeton, Austin was starting tailback; he missed all of two games and part of another with a dislocated shoulder—the team lost all three—but otherwise led Rutgers to a 3-7 record. Last year the school had its first winning season since 1949, and the man who lit the fuse was Billy Austin. He scored 12 touchdowns, passed for three more, ran for 946 yards, passed for 479, punted well, defended like a demon, and, when all the statistics were in, No. 2 man in total offense in the nation was Billy Austin. The leader, Washington State's Bob Newman, beat him by only 19 yards and played in one more game.
This year, as Rutgers races along unbeaten before the astonished gaze of every football fan in sight, Billy Austin is apparently a better football player than ever before. The key game was the opener against Princeton, which Rutgers won by a rather shocking 28-0 score. "Austin hurt us with his running and passing," said Princeton's Coach Dick Colman, "but he absolutely killed us with his defense." Two weeks ago the Scarlet Knights beat Colgate 21-7 and last Saturday defeated Richmond 23-12.
In the Southwest this may verge upon heresy but the football player Billy most closely resembles is Doak Walker. He has good speed but no one has any real trouble keeping him in focus as long as he is going in a straight line; it is only when he cuts that Austin has a tendency to blur out. This quickness, remarkable peripheral vision—which is a fancy name for that strange sixth sense of anticipation about approaching tacklers which good runners seem to inherit along with the color of their eyes and big feet—and a well-balanced, controlled stride are his greatest assets. He also follows blockers well, which is a sensible thing for a 168-pound halfback to do these days, although when they fail to appear Billy is capable of producing a great deal of drive and determination all on his own. He doesn't mind running over people a bit.
As a passer he has improved steadily; this is not the thing he does best but it is something he does well, particularly under pressure, and with the double threat he presents on a swing around end, with the option of running or throwing on almost every play, he can be a tough man to figure out. He is a good punter, a fine receiver, an exceptionally alert pass defender and a deadly tackier who loves to come storming up from his safety position to dump an opposing runner behind the line.
"He can be spectacular, all right," says Stiegman, "but I guess the thing we like about him best is the steady, dependable job he does for you on every play. He's just a good football player."
YOUNG MAN OF DISTINCTION
If Austin makes All-America this year, it will be a remarkable achievement, since Rutgers' football players do not usually make All-America for several reasons. When you mention the possibility to Billy, he only grins and shakes his head. Captain of the team, Cadet Colonel of the Air Force ROTC wing, president of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, a star lacrosse player and a good B student, he thinks he has probably had all the honors that any one boy deserves. He expects to spend three years in service after graduation and then look around for a career in public relations—but definitely not pro football. The game against Columbia on November 22 will probably be the last he will ever play.
"Football at Rutgers," he says, "has been a lot of fun. Even if I had dreamed that I might become a real good player at a big-time football school, this is where I would have gone. Here, football has been a part of college, not college a part of football. I wouldn't have wanted it any other way."