When Bennie Ellender departed Arkansas State for Tulane he left his successor with a nod of the head, a shake of the hand and the key to the family jewels. Bill Davidson, Class of '56 and for the last eight years Ellender's offensive coordinator, inherits 17 starters from the unbeaten (11-0) national champions of 1970. As an indication of their individual worth, four of them were either first team, second or honorable-mention All-Americas.
Quarterback James Hamilton is the most valuable, if only because he has guided the team to three consecutive Southland Conference titles. He passed for 1,800 yards and 11 touchdowns last year and was the outstanding offensive player in the 38-21 Pecan Bowl win over Central Missouri.
His leading receiver, Chet Douthit, has graduated, but succeeding him is Kearney Blalack, who averaged 30 yards on kickoff returns as a freshman. Hamilton can also call on a ground game that features Calvin Harrell, who gained 1,266 yards and scored 13 touchdowns last season. Johnnie Carr was so effective as a substitute (with 596 yards rushing and six touchdowns plus 178 yards passing in three of four attempts for two touchdowns) that he has earned a starting role in the same backfield. Harrell will provide the brawn, Carr the speed.
The defense has only two vacancies. One of them is entrusted to Bill Phillips, an All-America at offensive guard, who moves to linebacker. The secondary is keyed by Dennis Meyer, who intercepted 13 passes in 1970.
Arkansas State is unbeaten in its last 19 games and hasn't suffered a conference loss since 1967. Not only does Coach Davidson have tradition and talent but by 1973 he'll be playing in a new 25,000-seat stadium. The situation is reminiscent of the teen-age son who finally gets to drive the family car. He knows it runs fast and smooth and will get lots of admiring glances at the drive-in. And he knows, too, that if he dents a fender he'll be walking again.
When Dr. Harold E. Sponberg became president of Eastern Michigan University in 1965 the football followers around Ypsilanti rejoiced. "If we think winning is part of excellence in the academic program," said the former Gustavus Adolphus guard, "then I'm all for winning. I don't want a weak athletic program any more than I want our choir to sing off key."
Prospects for this year's choir are uncertain, but the football team should make just the kind of music Dr. Sponberg likes to hear. "This could be my best team of all time," says Coach Dan Boisture, who came to Eastern Michigan in 1967 after eight years as a Duffy Daugherty assistant at Michigan State.
The Hurons were 7-2-1 last season and the tie was with that power of powers, North Dakota State. The key performer in ground-oriented Slot-I attack should again be Tailback Larry Ratcliff, who gained 1,011 yards last fall and had runs of 83, 73, 53 and 44 yards among his 10 touchdowns. Ratcliff has a very good friend in Quarterback Bobby Hill, who calls on him 25 times every Saturday. Hill plays just the kind of quarterback expected from an ex-marine: demanding and hardnosed. He became a starter after midseason last year and under his direction the Hurons won their last four games, outscoring the opposition 129-8. Ratcliff and Hill can count on an offensive line that Boisture rates as the team's top asset.