Coach Bill Barnes of UCLA says that his scouts are looking only at players who are in the upper 10% to 12% of their graduating high school classes. At California, where Coach Marv Levy has had excellent success this last year in attracting some of his region's top prospects, his best-selling argument has been the advantages of a California education. Coach Dan Devine of Missouri a few weeks ago pulled two sheets of paper out of a desk drawer. Typewritten on them were the high school academic rankings of 23 boys who had been awarded football scholarships in 1961. They ranked as follows: 62 in a class of 142 students, 18 in 134, 124 in 400, 106 in 110, 49 in 122, 8 in 101, 23 in 93, 2 in 117, 203 in 608, 3 in 317, 105 in 174, 10 in 174, 1 in 154, 54 in 608, 61 in 430, 15 in 141, 10 in 134, 4 in 115, 1 in 434, 57 in 113, 53 in 116, 86 in 280 and 10 in 41.
Getting them early
A good prospect's studies, in fact, have become so important to many coaches that they are visiting the high-schoolers in their junior year and advising them to get to work. With almost a touch of awe in his voice, Coach Murray Warmath of the University of Minnesota concluded recently: "It seems there's a strong tendency to want everyone on campus to be a student."
There has, in short, been a social revolution around campuses, or at least around the stadium part of them. As Joe Kuharich of Notre Dame reports: "Twenty-five years ago all you had to do was throw a football, and you'd be a big man on campus. Today, the student body is more analytical. They look at the football player from all angles. He's got to be a solid citizen in every area."
Back in the days when the most solid thing about more than one star player was his head, these stiffer requirements would have worked a real hardship on coaches. Today, most of them don't mind because they are playing an exciting and wide-open game in which there is no room for the ponderous brute, even if he could be eased in past a stern admissions board. A premium instead is being placed on intelligence and speed. In fact, since the trend toward open, brainy football began a few years back, a very good argument can be made that coaches were raising their standards before admissions officers were.
The development of the present game followed an era of unimaginative play which, in turn, had followed the death of two-platoon football. Seeking more deception in their attacks, coaches split their ends and flanker backs wide from the rest of the team, developed pass-run option plays and generally dressed their team in so many different formations that only a TV expert would say exactly what they were doing. In 1959 the coaches adopted the "wild card," or all-but-unlimited substitution, rule, and they liberalized it further this year. In effect, this means that the colleges are almost back to two-platoon football. The coaches can get specialists into the game almost any time they want, and they can spring all the surprises their fertile minds can dream up, because they will have the men who can carry them out.
To play the speedier and more diversified game, all of the coaches would prefer to have big men in the lineup who can run the hundred in less than 10 flat and diagnose a play as fast as radar can compute the azimuth on an enemy missile. The trouble is, there aren't many of those to go around. The Midwest probably gets the most because of the density of its populations and the size of its universities, which graduate thousands of dedicated followers who tip the coaches off every time they spot a mountain of a youth sprinting home with half the Harvard five-foot shelf under his arm. Few alumni, incidentally, do any direct recruiting any more. The business has become so complicated that some coaches now feel much safer feeding data into an IBM machine and trusting the statistics of probability to provide the right, grade-A recruit. Alumni have caused so much trouble with under-the-table violations that coaches like Texas' Darrell Royal have benched them permanently. "We have a hard enough time keeping the rules straight ourselves," he says. "We don't have time to teach them to anybody else."
Speed over size
Since 1900, the average weight of college players has risen 30 pounds, to more than 200. Obviously, there are many huge players available. But unless they are fast and smart, they are being passed over in favor of smaller men. "We're looking for speed at all positions," says Len Casanova, coach at Oregon. "We'll sacrifice 10 to 15 pounds for that. Not straight-ahead speed, but maneuverability and agility."
The testimony to the value of fast men in college football today, regardless of size, is almost endless and fast becoming trite, but Darrell Royal can get almost emotional on the subject.