On a sunburned football field in Salina, Kansas one day last November, a slim halfback dressed in the white jersey of Kansas Wesleyan burst over his own right tackle, swung toward the sideline and sprinted 35 yards to Southwestern's end zone. At this, some 2,500 students and townsfolk flung themselves into the air, hooting with delight. Larry Houdek had scored his 114th point. He was the nation's top college scorer for 1956.
Such high spirits sweep through hundreds of small college bleachers every fall. Football played on these little campuses is a part of college and community life, just as it is in Norman, Oklahoma and South Bend, Indiana. The game itself may not be as crisp in Salina as it is in Norman, but the emotions it stirs are as keenly felt by its players and spectators. In this Special Issue, the accent has fallen on the big college football teams. But, without a note being struck for the countless small colleges, no football preview could be complete. Here are some of the good small college teams.
Kansas Wesleyan: Coyote Coach Gene Bissell mourns the loss of his running ace, Houdek ("We'd retire his jersey if we could afford it"), and plans a passing game this season. Keys to this attack are passing Backs Leland House and Garold Culley. Bruce Sorrell, a slashing, 170-pound, up-the-middle runner, will be used to draw in the defenses. For points after touchdowns, Kansas Wesleyan will sorely miss graduated Dale Emig who kicked 30 of 38, the best in the country. The line, which is pegged by hard-bitten Tackle Rock Welton and Center Bob Pinkall, is good, perhaps even better than last year's fine line. If the passing pays off, the Coyotes should repeat as Kansas College Conference champions. If not, look for College of Emporia or Baker University to wear the crown.
Hillsdale: At this little (enrollment: 662) college in the rolling hills of southern Michigan a long winning streak could come to grief on September 28, when the Dales meet Central Michigan. Hillsdale has murdered 25 straight opponents, several times running up the scores, despite Coach Frank Waters' frantic use of a sixth team and first-down punting. This year there's a chink in the Dales' armor: freshmen must be used at tackle. Otherwise, all's well. The backfield is big and fast as blazes. Stocky Don Eugenio, a fine faking halfback, is being called upon to take up the slack left by high-scoring Nate Clark. The attack is guided by 200-pound passing wizard, Doug Maison, a nephew of Philadelphia Eagle Al Dorow. Watch this team. The pro scouts do.
Alfred: The Saxons of upstate New York also face win-streak troubles. Twelve men who made a 15-game winning streak have graduated. These include the deadly passing combination of Al Moresco to Little All-America End Charlie Schultz, as well as Fullback Jimmy Ryan and the starting halfbacks. "I guess my luck has run out for a while," says Coach Alex Yunevich. Such pessimism isn't unfounded, yet Yunevich does have two charms in slender rabbit-footed Quarterback Jimmy Hartnett and a brilliant all-round sophomore end, Tom Cechini. Hartnett is rated a first-class punter. He may have opportunity to prove it.
Springfield: The Maroons, under one of the fine men of football, face a minor rebuilding job after last year's undefeated season. Ossie Solem, 35 years a coach, is using reserve fullbacks to calk up his inner line, weakened by graduation. The first backfield returns intact, led by Quarterback Les Plumb, one of the best all-round players in New England. Beyond the first four, backfield material is thin. Look for the earmarks of a Solem-coached team: strong line play and a well-balanced attack. The Maroons should have a near-perfect season.
New Haven: The Teachers, whose campus is about three punts and a drop kick from the Yale Bowl, recently have played some of the stoutest of small college football. New Haven shut out five opponents last year and piled up a nine-game undefeated season. This year's team isn't as good. The entire right side of the line graduated and so did a great passing quarterback, Tony Martone. Coach Jess Dow will mold a running attack around John Henry, a pile-driving halfback who led the team in scoring last season. On the line, watch Lou Pitney. He's a whale of a center.
Emory & Henry: The Wasps, on the wings of a bug-sized backfield, should have one of the finest teams in the South. "My starting halfs go about 160," says new Coach Bill Bailey, "and if you think they're small, you ought to see the rest of 'em." Seeing starter Gil Holmes should be trouble enough. He's fast and quick on outside stuff, a real climax runner. This little Virginia team (the line is scarcely larger than the backfield) is fast and well-drilled. It should be a delight to watch.
Tennessee State: The Tigers from Nashville, with one of the top small college lines in the country, will run through another undefeated season. The one uncertainty was met by moving Negro All-America Charlie Gavin from tackle to center. Coach Howard Gentry operates a fine ground attack by using powerhouse All-America Fay Mitchell on the outside plays and sending 170-pound Percy Hines skipping up the middle. These two halfbacks are tough to stop, and with the wonderful line in front of them, the Tigers are sure bets to win their second straight national title. Biggest roadblock: Grambling College and Southern University.
Redlands: The Bulldogs must rebuild a new set of forwards if they are to repeat as Southern California Conference champs. This is no mean trick. "I've got Norm Smothers back at guard, and all the other spots are in scramble," says Coach Jim Verdieck. He has an efficient backfield, however. It works off an Iowa-type T and stays mainly on the ground. Jim Fry, a 200-pounder, is a standout runner; Halfback Merv Lovenburg moves quick as a blink through the trap holes. The most important Bulldog game is with Occidental College, November 8. That should decide the conference title.