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"It's a close family," he says. "The best word for it is disrespectful. I use it in regard to the kids. Our high school football program is great. It is tremendously publicized, and the kids know each other from reading the papers, from campus visits during recruiting or from playing in the all-star games. They know a heralded athlete as just another guy like themselves and nobody to fear.
"And you have to consider, too, that seven of our eight members are in Texas, and pretty close. Here is TCU, for example, just 35 miles from SMU in Dallas, 90 miles from Baylor in Waco, 175 miles from Texas in Austin. All the roads are good, and they're just a few hours away. We talk football the year round down here, and there is some kind of special rivalry between virtually every school and every other school."
While others talk about offensive and defensive trends, Martin thinks the most important recent change in college football is the coaches' suddenly benevolent attitude toward sophomores.
"The sophomore is a respectable citizen now," says Abe. "It wasn't too many years ago that a coach felt he couldn't place much confidence in a sophomore and would put one on the starting team after everybody else had broken a leg. But the coaches don't feel that a sophomore in a key position kills them any more.
"In our area this has come about because good sophomores have proved themselves and because they aren't really as inexperienced as they used to be—probably the result of improved high school coaching. There's another factor, too. Very often, sophomores can give your team the fire, the enthusiasm it needs. The problem that's going to get greater as the years go by is keeping the senior boy inspired—particularly the senior who has enjoyed success. He gets to thinking about his pro career, the money, the future, and he may find himself playing the game for himself, for the pro scout, instead of for the team. A good sophomore can cure that kind of thing."
Martin, himself, may have one of the nation's best sophomores this season in Quarterback Sonny Gibbs, a 6-foot-7, 225-pounder who throws the ball with the ease, accuracy and distance of a major league outfielder and has true potentiality as a runner. But even Martin is quick to admit that his biggest asset undoubtedly will be 6-foot-5, 250-pound Bob Lilly, the huge senior tackle who hefts sports cars for exercise.
Whatever the reason or reasons, the rowdydow Southwest is almost certain to defy the preseason form chart. Experts in the area, caught often in the past with their bad predictions showing, have installed Texas as the favorite to win the conference title and a place in the Cotton Bowl come New Year's Day. But Bill Reid and tens of thousands of football-wise Texans know better. TCU, Arkansas and_ maybe even Baylor, enjoying a spirited renaissance under the former Baltimore Colt assistant, John Bridgers, could throw the speedy Longhorns. But, you know, it just might not be any of them.
Good things happen to Abilene Christian in Olympic years. In 1956 Bobby Joe Morrow won both sprints at Melbourne. This year the Wildcats had nobody at Rome, but they will have their best football team in some time. Bob McLeod (6 feet 5, 225 pounds) is regarded by some as the best end in Texas. He just might be. McLeod, who caught 32 passes for 422 yards last fall, is also a reliable defensive workman. Don Davis, a smart caller and fair passer, will divide quarterback assignments with Manley Denton, a fine deep thrower, bootlegger and faker. Coach Nick Nicholson has installed the wing T to help speedy Johnny Veltman (a 4.5-yard average last year) and Henry Colwell (3.5) break loose from the halves. Fullback Dave Rucker (4.5 average and 339 yards) is the leading returnee in yards gained but will have a hard time beating out Dickie Masters, a bruising transfer. Center Thurman Neill can kick to fit the need—long, short, high, or coffin-corner—and also is a good defender.