In Houston, the only city besides Los Angeles that is home to two Division I-A football teams and one Division I-AA program, quantity doesn't translate into quality. It's been 19 years since the University of Houston won a bowl game, 38 since Rice even appeared in one and six since Texas Southern played on its home field in 17-year-old Durley Stadium. "It's not safe to play there," says Texas Southern coach Bill Thomas, referring to Durley's threadbare artificial turf. "Plus, the eye-level seating isn't what you might call fan-friendly. We practice at the old Houston Oilers practice facility, which is five miles away."
Since the Tigers abandoned their stadium in 1994, the year Thomas arrived from Tennessee State, they've played their home games at local high school fields, the Astrodome, Pace Stadium and Houston's Robertson Stadium. "We try not to concern ourselves with things we can't control," says Thomas, whose Tigers are 7-1 following last Saturday's 26-17 loss to Grambling—a "home game" played 190 miles away at the Alamodome in San Antonio. "We've learned to worry about our opponent, not the site, and in that way we're kind of blessed. Stadium or no stadium, we've built a fine program here."
Before Thomas took over, Texas Southern hadn't had a winning season since 1977 This year's Tigers might be his best, thanks in large part to a defense that has allowed 240.6 yards per game, sixth fewest in Division I-AA Recently, Thomas and school president Priscilla Slade have spearheaded an effort to raise funds for a new on-campus football facility.
With Texas Southern in contention for its first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship since sharing the title with Alcorn State and Grambling 32 years ago, there may be no better time for Thomas and Slade to make their pitch.
Grove City's R.J. Bowers
A Yard Short Of 7,000
With a dive for a one-yard gain in the second quarter of last Saturday's 20-14 overtime victory over Bethany (W.Va.) College, R.J. Bowers of Division III Grove City (Pa.) College entered the NCAA record book as the career rushing leader for all divisions. He finished with 128 yards on 26 carries to raise his four-year total to 6,999 yards, breaking the previous record of 6,958 set by Brian Shay of Division II Emporia ( Kans.) State in 1998. (Last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Ron Dayne of Wisconsin, holds the Division I-A record with 6,397 yards.)
"There's a lot more I want to accomplish, hopefully in the NFL," says the 6'1", 238-pound Bowers, who was selected as an outfielder by the Houston Astros out of West Middlesex (Pa.) Area High in the 11th round of the 1992 baseball draft. He spent five-plus years in the Astros' system without making it past Class A and one season with the Madison Black Wolf of the independent Northern League before enrolling at Grove City in 1997, at age 23.
After setting the record, Bowers tried not to get overly excited about his accomplishment. He rode back to campus with family and friends who had made the 90-mile drive from West Middlesex to Bethany. "We ate some pizza and kind of relished the moment," says Bowers, who looks forward to surpassing 7,000 yards next Saturday, against Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh. "I'm glad it's finally over. We broke the record, now we can concentrate on winning."