Each fall 300,000 young men across the U.S. suit up for their final year of high school football. Of those seniors, about 3,000 receive scholarships to play football at a Division I-A college. Identifying the best among these athletes isn't an exact science. Example: Alabama's senior linebacker Derrick Thomas, an All-America this year, generated yawns from recruiters when he came out of South Miami High in 1985.
What has happened to the 20 or so players whom coaches and journalists deemed the class of the Class of '85? They are now seniors or, if they've been redshirted, juniors. None has won the Heisman Trophy. Only two have played on a national championship team—linebacker Quintus McDonald and kicker Kevin Mills of Penn State. The following represent a cross section of the best of the Class of '85.
Marty Lippincott (below and preceding page), a 6'5", 284-pound senior tackle at Notre Dame, is a mystery. The Maxwell Club named him the Philadelphia area's best high school football player when he played at Philly's Northeast Catholic High. The
Dallas Morning News
called him the sixth-best schoolboy player in the country. Lippincott recalls those heady days: "I thought of myself as a star because everyone kept telling me I was. And it's true. I was so good compared to everyone else." So how is it that he became such a bust at Notre Dame? For one thing, Lippincott thinks it's because "everybody had me as an All-America before I played a down. Now I'm going to be a senior and not letter." It takes 30 minutes of playing time in a season to win a letter; Lippincott won't come close to that this fall.
Another reason for Lippincott's failure is that when he arrived in South Bend, he was, by his own admission, "out every night drinking, then back in the dorm drinking. I'm sort of a rebel in my own time."
And he has paid the price. Lippincott has been kicked off the team three times. The first was after a team meeting in which the importance of discipline and decorum was discussed. Lippincott celebrated the end of the session by mooning his teammates. The second time was after a private meeting with coach Lou Holtz in which Holtz cautioned Lippincott repeatedly about the confidential nature of the discussion. Lippincott left the meeting and promptly told his teammates all about it. The third time Lippincott can't recall, and neither can anybody else. After each incident Lippincott's locker was cleaned out, a clear indication that he wasn't wanted back. But Lippincott kept returning, and the Irish staff kept giving him one more chance.
Lippincott started one game as a sophomore, at defensive tackle against Michigan, then was switched to offense and the second team. As a junior he started against USC at offensive tackle because of injuries to other linemen, and played briefly on both offense and defense the rest of the season.
Last summer Lippincott got into a brawl at a Chicago bar just two days before the start of practice. He found himself listed on the third team on the depth chart for the season opener against Michigan. He didn't even dress for the home game against Purdue two weeks later, nor did he make the traveling squad for the games at Michigan State and Pitt. He was so furious about not going to Michigan State that he told Holtz that he was quitting the team. But, predictably, he returned. While he has worked his way back up to third string, Lippincott sneers when asked if he has any chance of starting: "Yeah, if 50 other linemen get hurt."
On the record, the Irish coaching staff complains about Lippincott's slowness, and offensive line coach Joe Moore says, "You're only as good as your feet." But, privately, the coaches think that Lippincott is the perfect example of the overrated and undermotivated player. Lippincott has the picture: "They think I drag other people down. Holtz always says, 'If you can't be a leader, then be a follower.' He thinks I'm a leader in the wrong way. It seems like I've spent my whole career here trying to fight my way out of a ditch. I don't want to be in life like I've been in football. I don't want to start at the top, then work down."
Lippincott is mad at himself and, sometimes, mad at his coaches. Above all, he's disappointed. He admits that he has squandered his talent, and that's embarrassing to him. At times he seems to have lost perspective on his woeful career: He fantasizes that Holtz might invite him back as a fifth-year senior. That will happen when Holtz is named Pope. It's a sad spectacle, and as winter closes in on the Notre Dame campus, Lippincott is downcast. "What have I done for this team? Nothing," he says. "I'm not a very bright kid. I had a 2.0 in high school and a 2.0 at Notre Dame. I guess basically what I want to do is own my own nightclub."
Bedecked in gold chains, with a 24-carat smile to match, Oklahoma State wide receiver Hart Lee Dykes is discussing his many-splendored skills. "I don't know how good I am," he says, "but every week I do something I didn't know I'd be able to do. I'm a flashy type of guy. I'm cocky. Well, confident. I have no fear going across the middle. I like it. It gives me a chance to make a guy miss and showcase my talent. Every day I wake up with a smile on my face. With all the success I'm having, how could I be anything but happy? A lot of people would like to trade places with me."