Mickey Kwiatkowski, the Hofstra coach, knows what life in the smalls is all about: "A billion people in China don't know we play. What's worse, a lot of people in our own area don't know it, either." Too bad. The small colleges annually come up with a few juggernaut teams, eye-popping players and such wackiness as a midget halfback, the tight end/mayor, the single-wing attack and Portland State 105-Delaware State 0. Trouble is, in the NCAA's divisions I-AA, II and III there are 358 teams, not to mention the 230 playing NAIA football, some as dual members of the NCAA—all of which causes a lot of confusion. To sort out the big news from the smalls in 1981, we polled the small-college coaches.
Q. ARE THERE ANY BUDDING LEGENDS OUT THERE?
•Two for sure—Grambling State Coach Eddie Robinson and Tennessee State's John Merritt. As everyone knows by now, Bear Bryant, with 306 career wins, is fast closing in on Amos Alonzo Stagg's alltime collegiate record for victories (314). Robinson has 291 wins—15 fewer than Bryant—and, at 62, he is six years younger than Bear. Merritt, only 54, has won 206 games. Bryant will surely pass Stagg. But Robinson and Merritt have the Bear in their sights.
•Jackson State. Twenty-one former Jackson State players—including Walter Payton—played for NFL teams last fall. Only six schools, all Division I-A, had more alumni in the pros.
•Tony Madden and Milt Cerf, sort of. Madden, a Wilkes College (Pa.) tight end, defeated Pringle (Pa.) incumbent Mayor Charles Wroblewski in a primary last May and is uncontested in November's mayoral election. He's believed to be the first-ever student-athlete mayor. Cerf, a Marin County, Calif. insurance man, re-instituted and fully funded a football program at Sonoma State (Calif.). Cerf also coaches the Cossacks.
•Trumaine Johnson. Everyone who saw the Grambling wingback last fall came away impressed. He's 6'3", 190 pounds, and as a sophomore led the Southwestern Conference in receptions (41), receiving yardage (918) and scoring (96 points). First play of the Jackson State game, Johnson scored on a 96-yard pass play. He returned one punt 67 yards for a touchdown. Jackson Coach W.C. Gorden, whose Punt Returner Sylvester Stamps himself is no slouch, says, "Trumaine amazes me."
Q WHAT TEAMS WILL DEFINITELY MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
•In Division I-AA, alphabetically:
North Carolina A&T
From last fall's 10-2 team, Grambling has oodles of offensive punch to go along with Trumaine Johnson, specifically running backs Kenneth Jackson and Ernest Walker. Moreover, back on defense are all four Trees of Terror—tackles Willie Blount (6'5") and Robert Thomas (6'4") and ends Robert Smith (6'8") and Arthur King (6'6"). And don't overlook freshman Tackle James Polk, who's 6'9", 325 pounds and growing. Idaho, behind Quarterback Ken Hobart, looks ripe to win the Big Sky Conference. That would mean knocking off Boise State, last year's I-AA national champion. Since 1977 Lehigh is 39-9-2. This fall, with its usual tough defense and with Larry Michalski at quarterback, expect nothing to change. North Carolina A&T, 9-3 last year, led I-AA in rushing, and Waymon Pitts, who rushed for 936 yards, and Charlie (Soul Train) Sutton (500 yards) will again take off behind a standout veteran line dubbed "Operation Push." Just about everybody that matters is back at Western Kentucky. That's bad news for Eastern Kentucky and other Ohio Valley foes, especially since Western lost only one game last fall. Tennessee State, which drops down from Division I-A, and Eastern Illinois, a Division II power moving up, will be heard from, and with 18 starters back, Florida A&M is the sleeper.