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One evening last month in Mission Viejo, Calif., quarterback Todd Marinovich of Capistrano Valley High was holding his head in his hands. Marinovich is the owner of the national high school passing record of 9,914 yards, the phenom who threw for more yards his senior year—2,477—than Jim Kelly, Dan Marino or John Elway did during theirs. But 3½ weeks before Feb. 10, national letter-of-intent day—the first day on which colleges are permitted by the NCAA to sign football prospects—Marinovich was one stressed and pressed athlete. Of 104 Division I-A schools, some 100 were most eager to have him, and he was scared about making his decision.
Marinovich slowly raised his head and said, "This is the biggest decision of my life. It means not only where I will play football but, most likely, who I will marry, who my best friends for life will be, where I will live. It means everything. And the one thing I know for sure is I'm too young to make this kind of decision by myself."
He sighed. The phone kept ringing. It was always ringing. And there were always coaches on the other end of the line. They had nothing new to say, but they kept saying it in detail. Marinovich yawned a lot. He got used to fielding at least six calls a night, each lasting a minimum of 20 minutes. This had gone on since October. This was madness. NCAA rules allow a school's representative to visit an athlete's house no more than three times, to make one visit a week to the prospect's school for 2½ months and to pay for just one visit by the athlete to the campus. There are no limits, however, on phone calls or mail.
Yet Marinovich seemed to have made his decision. It would be Stanford. After all, Stanford was his first serious suitor; letters from the school started arriving at the Marinovich home when Todd was a freshman. Stanford also delights in throwing the football. Four years ago Marinovich replaced a poster of Christie Brinkley in his room with one of John Elway, who had quarter backed the Cardinal from 1979 to '82. Elway's dad, Jack, coaches Stanford, and Marinovich wore No. 7, Elway's number. Last summer Marinovich went to a football camp at Stanford, and John Elway worked out with him. He praised Marinovich's throwing mechanics but encouraged him to take deeper drops by using longer steps.
Stanford assistant coach Jimmy Walsh was a huge hit in the Marinovich household. Walsh told Todd, "Everything is in place for you to come." Then Todd made his official visit to Stanford on Jan. 17. He loved it. During the flight home, he thought to himself, "This is the place." Most important, perhaps, Todd's dad, Marv, preferred Stanford for his son. And then at 8:06 a.m. last Wednesday, in the principal's office at Capistrano Valley, Marinovich signed a national letter of intent—to play for Southern California.
The development and recruitment of Marinovich is an intriguing tale, especially because many observers had been saying that whoever got him would get a national title. USC assistant coach Chris Allen, who recruited Marinovich, says, "It's a little too early to talk about him getting us to a national championship, but I do know you can't get there without a superior quarterback. And he's a superior quarterback."
Ah, yes, those old rising expectations, a bugaboo of unspeakable proportions. So what are you shooting for, Todd?
"I hope to be the best quarterback ever to come out of California."
Better than Elway, better than Jim Plunkett?