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It was the barefoot booter, Franklin, who last year boomed the opening shot in the long-range barrage. Against Baylor, on a wet field with about a six-mph wind at his back, the Aggie sophomore followed his usual routine. He stared at the maroon spot painted on his white, hard-rubber tee. The holder placed the ball straight up on the tee with the laces facing the goalposts, and Franklin, approaching from the left side like a soccer sidewinder, kicked it through from 64 yards away, an NCAA record. But not for long. A while later Franklin kicked one from 65 yards out. (On the same afternoon, Abilene Christian's Swedish import, Ove Johansson, kicked an NAIA record 69-yarder.)
All told, Franklin made 17 of 26 field-goal attempts last year and 30 of 32 extra points to rank second in scoring in the SWC. This year he has hit on 11 three-pointers, including four in the final quarter against Texas Tech to give the Aggies a 33-17 come-from-behind win. He has also kicked a 76-yarder in practice.
Last summer Texas' Erxleben, a good friend of Franklin's, ran three or four miles before work and again after work every day, training to top Franklin's distance record. As he ran he kept repeating to himself, "I'm going to get Tony this year. I'm going to run and run until it hurts so bad, but I'm going to get him."
Get him he did five weeks ago, against Rice. With the score 54-7 in the third period and the ball on Texas' 49, Coach Fred Akers called for the punting team but Erxleben persuaded him to try a howitzer-range field goal. Erxleben took off his punting shoe and put on his square-toed placekicking shoe (the toe is tied up slightly to give his kicks more loft). He wanted to get a two-yard margin over Franklin, so he moved the tee one yard farther back than usual, to 67 yards. The ball sailed "dead through the middle" with the help of an eight-mph wind.
Two weeks later it was Little's turn. Against Texas, with a 20-mph wind to his back in the second quarter, he put his size-seven shoe and all his body whip and hip rotation into a kick from his 43 and made it, to tie Erxleben's record. That prompted Erxleben to send a note to Franklin: "Don't you think it's your turn to kick a 67-yarder? Remember, no farther!"
As of last week, all three of the SWC's mustachioed kicking stars were leading their teams in scoring despite such formidable rivals as Campbell at Texas, Ben Cowins at Arkansas and George Woodard at A&M, and all three teams were nationally ranked.
Interestingly, the three kickers took up their shared specialty as more or less a sideline. Little was the star quarterback and cornerback on a state championship team at South High in Shawnee Mission, Kans., a suburb of Kansas City.
"In my opinion, he would be our starting quarterback right now if we had let him do both," said Arkansas Assistant Athletic Director Lon Farrell. "He's a super athlete. You've never seen anything like the guy. You see him throwing on the practice field, you'd think that's our quarterback. Gosh, he can throw the football."
Arkansas' baseball coach tells of the time Little wandered by the campus ball park and stepped into the batting cage for a few cuts. He stunned the coach and everybody else by taking four swings and hitting four home runs.
Little's father, once a fine athlete at Western Illinois, is an oft-transferred sales manager for a tractor company, and Steve spent more than four years of his boyhood in Norway, but his soccer kicking style was not learned in Europe, or even on a soccer field. After his family moved to Kansas, he began watching Kicker Jan Stenerud of the Kansas City Chiefs on TV and identified with him because he was a Norwegian. Little went out and taught himself the sidewinding style.