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One of the beautiful things about McVea is his realism. He admits that he finds it hard to put out when it is unnecessary. "I got this sore groin," he says. "Why should I abuse it against a team we're gonna beat pretty bad? If they had needed me, I'd have been in there." Besides, he doesn't like to run on the Astroturf, not at all. He thinks it is shortening his career. He says that it is hard as a dance floor, and you can't get good enough footing to cut properly. To help McVea and the rest of his Houston speedsters, Yeoman last week had padding put under the Astroturf to give the surface more resilience, a modification that was first tried last Saturday night for the North Carolina State game. It seemed to help some, especially when McVea got off a 34-yard scamper the third time he carried, but he was not destined to give it a thorough test.
McVea has been a controversial player throughout his career, mostly because he was one of the first big Negro stars to come out of Texas' integrated high schools. He scored a remarkable 591 points in three seasons at San Antonio's Brackenridge High and he closed out his eligibility there in a 1963 state playoff game that is a classic.
It was a bi-district encounter between Brackenridge and San Antonio Lee, and McVea played a T-formation quarterback in that game, which Lee won by the score of 55-48. Still, Wondrous Warren scored six times for a total of 36 points in his losing cause. A film was made of the game, and it has become frazzled from being shown at luncheons and banquets. "The McVea film," as it is known, is still in demand.
That game was hardly over before McVea was being pursued by scouts from more than 75 colleges around the nation. He made trips to USC, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, and copies of his transcript were asked for by every college from the Rio Grande to Leningrad. A few Southwest Conference schools were interested in making McVea their first recruited Negro, something SMU's Jerry Levias has since become. (Levias led SMU to a conference title in 1966.)
All along, however, it was the University of Houston that had the inside track with Warren, whose second choice was USC. His family of eight brothers and sisters wanted him to stay close to home so they could watch him play, and Bill Yeoman lectured him on the pioneer spirit of Texans. "We can be a first," Bill had said. "You'll be the first Negro football star to stay home, and I'll be your coach. We'll go down the road together."
The idea appealed to Warren. An ardent sports follower, he knew about all the talented Negroes from Texas who had left the state in the past because they either were not wanted or did not want to brave the indignities that were sure to result from breaking the color barrier.
"The racial aspects didn't really bother me too much," McVea says. "I thought everyone was making too big a deal out of it. My high school was integrated. And I frankly never thought about it. I really didn't feel that much like a pioneer by staying in Texas and going to Houston. The big thing was being close to home."
There were some marvelous rumors about McVea during his first couple of seasons with the Cougars. Most of them centered around what Yeoman must have promised McVea to lure him away from the other recruiters. McVea was supposed to have received an automobile, a wardrobe to equal a South American dictator's, free trips home to San Antonio any time he wished to go, a telephone credit card, a suite of rooms at the Tidelands Hotel his freshman year ("to get adjusted"), a four-year salary of $40,000....
Most of the rumors were started by rednecks, of which Texas still has many despite its plea that it is a southwestern state, as opposed to a southern one. And they all made Yeoman, in his words, "darn sick to my stomach." The talkers got a measure of pleasure when the NCAA put Houston on probation for three years in 1966 because of recruiting violations, but this involved players other than McVea. (The probation will keep Houston from playing in a bowl game this season.)
In his freshman season McVea did have an adjustment to make, and at first it seemed too big for him. He would overhear remarks as he strolled to class. And a couple of players on the team refused to speak to him.