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Football practice at Louisiana Tech University, this year's king of the small colleges, is a morality play in hip pads, a pigskin Armageddon. It is a clash between good and evil in which blows are struck, blood is shed, curses are shouted. The offense and defense have their spiritual guides: Denny Duron, a quarterback and an evangelist; Joe McNeely, a linebacker and a rowdy. The twain meet, and the thunder rolls.
Intrasquad hostilities cease on autumn Saturdays for war of another sort. The enemy is more easily identified. His colors are those of Southland Conference opponents like Southwestern Louisiana, McNeese State and Texas- Arlington. Louisiana Tech always wins—12 times without a defeat last season. If the tall, handsome quarterback with his passages from Philippians does not do it, the short, unhandsome linebacker with his guttural ferocity will. And if it be neither, there is the split end who can beat any defense, or the defensive tackle who is as invulnerable to bullets as he is to double team blocks. To be sure, there is an unusual football team in Lincoln Parish, Ruston, La.
Coach Maxie Lambright does not fully comprehend the conflicting personalities represented on his team, but he does understand football talent. There is plenty of it among the Bulldogs' nine offensive and eight defensive starters from last year's corecipient of the National Football Foundation's John F. Kennedy Award. The other college-division team honored was Delaware, which did not risk its unbeaten regular season in a bowl game. Louisiana Tech did and defeated Tennessee Tech 35-0.
Duron passed for two touchdowns in the Grantland Rice Bowl and was the game's outstanding offensive player. McNeely made 12 tackles, recovered a fumble and returned an interception for a touchdown. Football talent is perhaps their only similarity.
" Denny's been trying to straighten me out," McNeely confesses. "I am kind of rowdy."
Lambright is more precise. "Joe doesn't just tolerate contact, he enjoys it."
Louisiana Tech's coaches define offense and defense in terms that also seem appropriate to the Bulldogs' spiritual leaders. Offense is "poise, finesse and execution." Defense is "fight, fury and utter abandon."
Senior Duron is fulfilling the responsibilities handed down by that former Bulldog quarterback, Terry Bradshaw. When he took the job last season—at the only college that offered him a scholarship—he had not played the position since high school. In each of the preceding four years Tech quarterbacks had amassed more than 2,000 yards passing. Three times they had led the team to a postseason game. Duron met the challenge by contemplating a favorite passage—"I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me"—-and by praying. "God," Duron began, "they've had other quarterbacks here who were great. If I do that I won't have done anything new. So I'm praying for an unbeaten season as glory to You." Louisiana Tech went unbeaten, Duron passed for more than 2,000 yards, and the Lord, presumably, was glorified.
Prayer was a natural outlet for Duron, an Assembly of God believer who travels with an evangelical music group called The Vessels. On Thursday nights during the school year he holds campus prayer services. In the spring he baptizes confessors in the school's outdoor swimming pool. There were 11 immersed last May 17. Among them was Halfback Glen Berteau, the leading rusher the previous fall. "Praise God," Duron said.
Denny Duron is not alone in his beliefs among the Louisiana Tech players. "I think God had a plan when he called me here," says Tight End Huey Kirby, who himself called 34 new souls to Christ at a revival in Jonesboro one evening. "This isn't just a coincidence, our being here together. I believe the good Lord brought it all together for us."