"In the old days of recruiting, you could gamble on a poor student, as long as he had ability and size. Now, you got to find yourself a youngster with a lot of bookshelves in his home and hope he knows what a forward pass is."—
Coach Abe Martin, Texas Christian University
"It used to be that everybody said, 'What kind of athlete is he?' Now the first thing we say is 'Let's see his transcript.' "—
Coach Jim Owens, University of Washington
"If he's smart enough to get in here, he's smart enough to play football."—Coach Johnny McKay, University of Southern California
The little man above, blithely leap-frogging over a huge, charging lineman, symbolizes the kind of player who will help bring about in 1961 what Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes claims will be the greatest changes seen in college football in years. Like Abe Martin's recruit, he probably does have some books at home; on the field he is guileful, tenacious and, above all, fast. He represents a fundamental transformation in the game that will keep coaches and college professors happy, the slower of the big "75s" on the bench and large crowds enthralled.
The little man, of course, is small only by comparison with the one or two giants who still roam the lines these days of almost every team in the country. He weighs from 185 to around 210 pounds, goes to school in the state he grew up in, is a better than average student and, what pleases his coach the most, is agile enough to make a monkey out of a man a quarter again his size.
These are not, however, the reasons why he is in a college lineup. He got there because of the population boom and some bright and fairly new twists in football thinking.
The big universities, as everybody knows in this post-sputnik era, are being deluged by applicants. Since they cannot admit all the students who want to enter, they have become choosy and are taking only the best, which simultaneously enables them to raise their academic sights. For the James Thurber type of male animal, whose only credentials for admittance are 17-inch biceps and shoulders that have to be edged sideways through the gym doors, this latest development in American education has proved disastrous: he isn't getting in. "In my 22 years in football," says Wally Butts, who retired at the end of last season as coach at Georgia, "the most dramatic change in college football has been the rise in academic standards. This has been increasingly evident during the last four years."
Coaches in every other section of the country report the same story. At Washington State, for instance, six years ago a state high school diploma was all that was required for admittance. Today an instate applicant needs a 2-point average (C), an out-of-stater 2.5 (C+). At Washington the standards are higher: 2.5 and 3. In the Big Eight, athletes, to qualify for scholarships, must be in the upper two-thirds of their high school class. The University of Southern California now requires college board entrance examinations, Texas Christian University will begin using them next year, and six of the eight Southwest schools will have their own entrance tests before the end of 1962. And in the Big Ten, the Southeastern and Atlantic Coast conferences and in most eastern schools, including Syracuse and Penn State, standards have similarly been raised.
The pressure to find qualified boys to play football has inspired an entirely new approach to recruiting. Probably nobody knows or understands this better than Bear Bryant of Alabama, one of the master recruiters of all time.
"This is the way we operate," says Bryant. "One, we become interested in a high school boy. Two, we go to the principal's office at his high school and check his grades. Three, we talk to his family and his coach to determine what kind of boy he really is. Fourth and finally, we determine his football ability."