SI Vault
Jerry Kirshenbaum
April 29, 1974
Once upon a town in Utah there was a basketball star, a football whiz, a baseball flash and an all-round excellent student. In true storybook fashion, they are all the same guythink
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April 29, 1974

Bruce Hardy All American Boy

Once upon a town in Utah there was a basketball star, a football whiz, a baseball flash and an all-round excellent student. In true storybook fashion, they are all the same guythink

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There are moments when Hardy does seem to be just another teen-ager. Notwithstanding his good grades, he confides, "I really don't study very hard." At lunch hour he and several cronies perch on a railing in a Bingham High hallway and watch the girls go by. With two or three buddies he enrolled in a home economics course for senior boys known as "bachelor survival." Levity reigned. There was Bruce, seated one morning behind a sewing machine, back-stitching an apron and cheerfully admitting, "A seamstress I'll never be." (When Owen, the principal, says that "Bruce can really thread the needle," he is referring to the boy's accuracy at throwing a football.)

But there also is a serious, even brooding, side to Bruce's nature. Bingham's student body is three-fourths Mormon, and Bruce observes the faith enough to attend Sunday priesthood meetings and once noted in an English theme that drinking and smoking were "less desirable forms of escape" than athletics. At home he used to share a bedroom with his younger brother Axel, but last summer he moved his bed to the basement, where he sleeps in dank, cement-block solitude. "It's quieter down there for reading and listening to music," he explains.

In temperament Bruce and his 16-year-old brother are vastly different. A Bingham sophomore, Axel stands 6'2", throws and shoots left-handed but is otherwise a lookalike for his brother. An emerging three-sport star in his own right, he quickly became starting halfback on Bingham's football team, first-string guard in basketball and pitcher—and Bruce's batterymate—in baseball. But he is more the happy-go-lucky type. "I keep telling Bruce to relax," says Axel.

Despite such advice, however, Bruce worries about the future. He has had feelers to play basketball from as far away as Villanova and Florida State. Big-league baseball scouts have hovered near. But his ambition is to be a pro quarterback and he plans to concentrate on football in college. This decision touched off a lively recruiting war that ended when he signed a tender last January with Arizona State.

It was an obvious coup for Frank Kush, the Sun Devils' coach. Bruce throws a football 65 yards with accuracy, and since ASU's All-America, Danny White, has used up his eligibility, Kush is encouraging about Hardy's chances of starting at quarterback as a freshman. "He's got everything—ability, intelligence and attitude," Kush says.

Still, it is no more certain that the best schoolboy athlete will star in college or the pros than it is that the smartest schoolboy will ever become president. For all his gifts, Hardy is not exceptionally fast afoot and has trouble throwing on roll-outs. This should be no real handicap in Kush's pro-style offense, but even his most ardent admirers worry about how easily Bruce can step into the glamour role of college quarterback.

"I hope these mountains haven't sheltered him too much," says Coach Sluga. The fear is that Bruce might be too much the country boy, too much the product of a thinly populated area where a lot of folks drive pickup trucks and say, "You betcha." There is the hint of a twang in Bruce's voice, and his speech contains roughhewn constructions like, "I done good in that game." Until he flew off to visit Colorado State, one of three Western Athletic Conference rivals vying with Arizona State for his football services—the others were Utah and Brigham Young—Bruce had never been inside an airplane. Did he have a window seat? You betcha.

But the big time may not overwhelm him so easily. Going to school in Bingham has not left Bruce entirely untouched by cosmopolitan influences. In its heyday Bingham was a brawling, wide-open place picturesquely nestled in a canyon so narrow it was said that dogs had to wag their tails vertically. Its 8,000 residents, an ethnic mix including Greeks, Poles, Slavs and Japanese, all lived on a single thoroughfare, a four-mile-long Main Street that wound its way between steep canyon walls. Its menfolk worked in the open-pit mine, a hole in the ground two miles in diameter and five city blocks deep.

There is obvious symbolism in the fact that the terraced mine resembles a surreal stadium. Bingham was a sports-mad town whose youth thought nothing of playing tackle football on boulder-strewn fields. When Bingham High won the state basketball championship in 1960 Mayor Joe Dispenza shouted himself so hoarse that he spoke in a near-whisper for years. And it was a source of pride when that humble crewman in Bingham's mine, Gene Fullmer, became world middleweight champion.

But when Bingham began to fade, sports declined. The skid ended with the arrival of Bruce Hardy. Bingham figures to keep on winning with kid brother Axel, who may well become Bruce's equal as an athlete.

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