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C'mon, Tony, Lighten Up
Rick Telander
November 02, 1987
Cornered by our intrepid reporter, Arkansas's star noseguard, Tony Cherico, however reluctantly, says a few words
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November 02, 1987

C'mon, Tony, Lighten Up

Cornered by our intrepid reporter, Arkansas's star noseguard, Tony Cherico, however reluctantly, says a few words

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"So I started wrestling, and I loved it. It taught me discipline and helped me with leverage, for football. I only weighed 220, but I was 33-2, I think, as a senior. And then in the state tournament I wrestled a guy who weighed 340. Day-um! His sister was bigger than me. This guy came into the gym in overalls. Then his sister came in in overalls. Then his mom came in, wearing polyester, and that was the first time I saw polyester stretched to the limit. There's a picture of me from that match, and all you can see are my two hands sticking out from underneath the guy, all this blubber spread out on top of me.

"I'm only six feet tall now and maybe 240 pounds, so I have to explode in football and use leverage. The toughest center I ever played was a guy about 5'11", Stan Fields from Tulsa. He took three steps before I even moved. With one hand he broke my face mask and chin strap. Just smashed 'em. I like playing against big, strong slobs. I hate those little quick guys, they're like little dogs yapping at your heels. That's ironic, because that's what they say about me.

"It reminds me of a game as a freshman, against Texas and center Gene Chilton. I'd been sick and was down to about 228. He was 304, and everybody is saying, 'Gene, Gene, the Coke machine!' And all I said was, 'Day'-um!' He put his hands on the ball and I couldn't see it, and I looked past him and I couldn't see the quarterback. Chilton looked like he had four legs. About that time you start asking yourself questions like, 'Why am I here?' But I'm just a big kid. And I make it fun. Like last year against Texas, I'm running down Bret Stafford, the quarterback, and I can see the headlines: 'Nose Gets QB, Glory.' But Billy Ray Todd, their tackle who goes about 280—really nice kid, Billy Ray—he was coming full-tilt from somewhere and he waylaid me. And my jaw was about up to here where my ears are, and I could hear the crowd going, 'Ooooooh,' but somehow I still got up and didn't even come out. Hey, that's just the way it is. There are big guys in this game.

"Like Freddie Childress, our guard. He weighs 350, at least. During spring practice, he tackled one of our corner-backs, John Bland, after an interception. John was faking and juking and jitterbugging and giving the head-and-shoulder business, and old Freddie just went straight ahead. My God, I thought we'd have to peel Johnny off the turf. When I had my moment of glory last year against SMU, when I actually intercepted a ball, I had 80 open yards to the goal line—I could have walked there—but some stupid offensive lineman tripped me after I'd gone about three inches. They have to be stupid. Why else would they play offensive line?

"But they're big and mean, and if you stand up and look around, they'll bowl you over. It's funny, because at nose-guard your first instinct is to stand up and see what the hell is happening. But you can't do that. Just stay low. That's why we practice in the Cage. See that thing down there that looks like a jungle gym with chicken wire on top? You'll beat your head to death on the bars. You can't print what I call the Cage.

"See all the stuff in that corner of the field, that torture chamber—five-man sled, two-man sled, dummies, a 700-pound punching bag? We call that area Wally World, from the movie Vacation, but also because our defensive line coach is Wally Ake. He sent us a photo of himself and the cheerleaders and pom-pom girls standing in front of all the machines, smiling, with the inscription 'Come And Play In Wally World.' It was an invitation to preseason two-a-days. Kind of ruined my summer."

At this point Cherico runs off with the rest of the Arkansas defensive line to Wally World. He reappears later at the training table, still talking, wearing a T-shirt, gym shorts, dress black socks and white bucks. Brown sits down across from Cherico. Small, quiet and sleepy-eyed, Brown methodically pours more and more pepper and then salt into Cherico's gravy bowl. Cherico ignores him.

"We're trendsetters here. We're happening. Hey, sorry about the food. During preseason, Childress and some of the other big guys have to eat at the Too Big A Hog table. Boy, that's no fun. I haven't had that problem. Coach Ake says to me, 'Why can't you get a big neck like a defensive lineman ought to have?' He wants me to be just a head, a walking muscle. I tell him, 'Coach, if I do that, I'll be a bigger target, that's all.' Hey, if you want to find me, the last place to look is in the weight room. They didn't used to lift weights. And that's how I like it now. I mean, I'm lucky even to be playing. If Lou Holtz hadn't left and Ken Hatfield hadn't come in as head coach and moved me from offensive guard to defense, and then a whole bunch of guys in front of me hadn't quit—well, I'd be a too-small, too-slow offensive lineman on the bench.

" Hatfield knew about me because he recruited me when he was the coach at Air Force. [Within minutes after meeting Cherico, who was then a senior in high school, Hatfield turned to an assistant coach and said, "He's a live wire. That boy's not coming to Air Force. "] Anyway, I'm about done here. This gravy is awful. Let's go to our room."

Much has been written in the Arkansas press about Cherico and Brown's old dorm suite. It was where Agnes lived and where so many empty beer cans were found two years ago that Hatfield suspended both players for a week. Of his inspection of the apartment at that time, Hatfield says, "It was not a pigsty. I'm not sure a pig would have lived there."

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