Indeed, he was such a gym rat that Dan Lewis, Carver's basketball coach, sometimes had to return to school at 9 p.m. to shoo Bruce home. In organized workouts, however, Bruce often tried Lewis's patience. Without warning, he would throw the 6'3", 190-pound Lewis over his shoulder and spin him around. One day practice was delayed for an hour when 16 basketballs disappeared from the gym. Bruce finally allowed that as a prank he had hidden the balls in a friend's car. Lewis made him run the bleachers in the gym for an hour and a half. "Without stopping," Lewis says.
Bruce usually redeemed himself on the court. As a junior and senior he led Carver to the state class 4-A championship. As a senior he was named the state tournament's MVP and won an All-Star game dunk contest. On the NCAA's February signing date for football letters of intent, Auburn was the only Division I-A power to offer Bruce a scholarship. He called a press conference to seal the deal but never showed up. "I can't do it, Coach," Bruce told Lewis. "I love basketball too much."
Instead, Bruce decided to wait for a basketball scholarship. Austin Peay, Jacksonville, Alabama State, Tennessee at Chattanooga and Auburn at Montgomery offered scholarships, but Bruce set his sights on Alabama. Undeterred by the Crimson Tide's lack of interest in his basketball potential, Bruce drove to the university to ask for a football scholarship, figuring that once he got on campus he would eventually be able to play both sports. But 'Bama wasn't interested in him for football, either.
Bruce stopped at Lewis's house on the way home from Alabama to repeat a question he had often asked his coach: "What are my chances of playing in the NBA?"
"Not good," Lewis replied.
"All right, I'll sign with Auburn," Bruce said.
But at the beginning he felt out of place there. "I went a whole month without seeing my mother," he says. "I called her every night and kept asking the coaches to give me time off to go home. But they said no. I was lost."
As a freshman, Bruce starred on special teams. He would tell teammates that he would give them a Snickers bar if they could beat him downfield on kickoffs. He never had to pay off. However, he found the transition to playing outside linebacker against major college talent difficult. He was a natural at covering backs and wide receivers man for man. But going one-on-one with strong tight ends or bulky tackles was another story. "They'd hit him in the mouth and knock him backward," says Joe Whitt, Auburn's outside linebacker coach.
More than once Bruce threatened to quit, but Arthur wouldn't let him. Arthur had been a talented schoolboy running back until he was forced into the role of family breadwinner. "Not all things in life come easily," Arthur, who now works as a butcher, told Aundray. "Stay in school. Get your degree. Don't blow this chance."
Bruce became a starter as a junior. He had also earned a reputation as a first-team wacko. He waltzed around campus in a Donald Duck cap and terrorized teammates and others. Freshmen found their cars in the athletic dorm parking lot up on jacks; Bruce had removed the tires. Other players endured rude awakenings; he punched them as they slept.