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."
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.