East Texas State's Earnest Hawkins, whose teams must play against Johnson once more, compares the 6-foot-3, 195-pound passer to Joe Namath. "Of course Namath is the best I've seen," says Hawkins, "but I've had pro scouts tell me they think this kid is right next to him. I know from films and the experience we've had in playing against him, there aren't many kids who throw the ball better. He can be running full speed and throw it back across. He can lead a man out, throw it deep."
"He has the size," says Red Hickey of the Dallas Cowboys, "and he has very quick hands, quick action and a good motion. A lot will depend upon what he does this year, but he'll go high in the draft. He'll open a lot of eyes, I'm sure."
One of the games people play in the football season—besides football—is small-college name-dropping. Anyone who wishes to excel at that popular sport this fall would be wise to note the name and location of a city of 16,500 in the green hills of northern Louisiana. This is Ruston, a place whose industries range from polystyrene to broom handles. Interstate 20, a four-lane superhighway, skirts the northern edge of town and links Ruston with Minden, Arcadia, Choudrant and Monroe. On weekends in the summer most Rustonites travel the 13 miles to D'Arbonne Lake to sail, ski, swim and sleep in the sun; but on Saturdays in the fall they cram into LOUISIANA TECH's ancient stadium and eagerly watch the Bulldogs wallop whatever team happens to be unfortunate enough to be visiting that afternoon. Tech has not lost a conference game in Ruston since 1954, and the last time it lost any game at home was a squeaker with Southern Mississippi in 1961. The townsfolk are so proud of their Bulldogs that 1,000 of them are planning to make the 265-mile train ride to Houston this week for the big game against Rice. Yes, Rice. Tech Coach Joe Aillet has won so often (67% of the time) for so long (24 years) that teams like Rice and Alabama are no longer embarrassed to schedule his team. And he, in turn, is not afraid of them. "We'll play anybody who'll play us," says Aillet—and with Bear Bryant on the schedule (September 24, 1966) you have to believe him.
The Bulldogs won nine of 10 games in 1964 and for the 13th time in 24 years finished on top of the Gulf States Conference. Tech was fourth in the small-college ratings and thought it should have been first. This year, if Aillet can replace—of all things—his defensive line coach (George Doherty is recovering from a heart attack), Louisiana Tech could be first and not lose in Ruston, Shreveport, Houston or anywhere else. "Right now, with George out, it's an impossible situation," says Aillet. "However, from a realistic point of view we'll be as good as we were last year."
Realistically, Quarterback Billy Laird threw for 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns last year. He is back, as are 250-pound tackles like Jim Boudreaux and Dan Irby and guards like Bob McKinnon and Corky Cassity, both over 200. Fullback Gerry McDowell is being pushed by sophomores Bob Brunet and Richie Golman, who both run the 100 in under 10 seconds. Flanker Corky Corkern is gone but freshman Butch Daniels may be better yet. Wayne Davis and Maurice Greer are back at the ends. The biggest loss of all was punter David Lee (signed by the Cleveland Browns), but with an attack like the Bulldogs' who needs to punt?
Tech meets McNEESE STATE October 2 in Lake Charles, and that should settle the Gulf States race almost before it begins. McNeese has 24 lettermen left, but with Chuck Anastasio (twice All-Conference at tailback) among the missing, Coach Les DcVall says, "We won't have the football team we had last year." Rich Guillory, a swift, heady runner, returns at quarterback, and Merlin Walet, a 220-pound fullback, is probably the best back in the GSC: he played in just three games last year and gained 312 yards. Without more players like these, however, McNeese probably will be good enough only to beat out SOUTHEASTERN LOUISIANA for second place.
That, however, is a pretty big "only." Southeastern is something of a powerhouse itself. "If the line improves and the backs come through and the quarterback situation shapes up and one or two freshmen surprise, the Lions could be a contender," is one evaluation of Southeastern. This comes from Hammond, La., where the school is located, but do not be misled. The Lions have Harry Nunez, a four-year man, at fullback and two All-Conference picks, Ronnie Frederick and Earl Dieterich, in the line. If half their "ifs" come through, the Lions will be quite a decent little team.
There are few ifs about Charles (Bubber) Murphy these days. His MIDDLE TENNESSEE Blue Raiders haven't finished lower than second in the Ohio Valley Conference for 10 years and have won or shared the title six of the last nine. Murphy will not surprise the good people of Murfreesboro with anything less in 1965. Quarterback Teddy (Thunderbolt) Morris, holder of every MTSU total-offense and passing record, will strike again—as will Halfback Bob Hlodan (the Raiders' leading rusher and MVP in the 20-0 win over Muskingum in the Grantland Rice Bowl), Middle Guard Keith Atchley, Fullback Larry Mathews and 18 other lettermen.
If four transfers from major football schools can steady Nick Denes' line at WESTERN KENTUCKY STATE, the Hilltoppers could make things sticky for Middle Tennessee on that big day for little football in the South, October 2, when the two teams meet. Center Tom Ruby, Tackles Ralph Edwards and Jack Crangle and Guard Wes Simpson could be good enough to produce an OVC title. One of the Burt brothers, John, is back again, and he led the Hilltoppers in rushing last season.