Of course he knows. Lance's misshapen schnozz is the price he pays for teeing off on his opponents with such wanton, gleeful abandon. He pays it gladly. Reviewing a video of the Panthers' 1989 game against Indiana State, Lance fast-forwards past one of his seven interceptions that season to show a visitor "a pretty good hit I had." A Sycamore wideout leaps for a high pass; Lance streaks into the picture and takes him out at the knees. Lance plays it back in slow motion. "He hangs on to the ball," says Lance. "Outstanding."
"He's smart—he directs our secondary—and he can run," says Brock Spack, an assistant coach at Eastern. "But mostly, Tim Lance can flat out hit your butt."
"This kid is a throwback," says a scout for an NFC Central team. "He can go out on a wideout or play heads-up on a tight end. When they played Liberty University, he jacked Eric Green around a few times." Green, it should be noted, is a 6'5", 274-pound tight end who was the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round draft choice in April. The scout anticipates that Lance will be used in the NFL as both a linebacker and a strong safety.
Lance traces his zest for contact to his early years as an AAU and Silver Gloves boxer. "I lost a lot of fights when I was seven," he says. "Once I got knocked silly. It taught me a lesson. If you don't want to get your butt kicked when you step into the ring, you've got to have an attitude." Lance was the Silver Gloves national champion for his age group in 1980.
The Lances hail from tiny Cuba, Ill. (pop. 1,648), 40 miles southwest of Peoria. "We lived on a farm," says Lance. "We had a lake stocked with trout, a couple creeks running through the place. Did a lot of fishing and trapping."
What an idyllic setting in which to spend one's youth, a visitor muses.
"Yeah, right, whatever you say," says Lance. "We had a big backyard, 70 or 80 yards long, and my brother, Steve, and I used to play football on it. The barbed-wire fence was out of bounds. One time I got an angle on him and took him out in the barbed wire. He needed stitches." Explaining the incident to his parents, Tim said, "What was I supposed to do, let him score?"
Not to worry—Steve got in his licks. "He used to hit me in the head all the time," says Lance. "He hit me with a baseball bat, or he'd throw a wrench at me. He'd say, 'Here, catch!' and I'd turn around and take a ratchet to the head. He got pretty handy cutting butterfly bandages out of tape and slapping them on me."
Steve, who played tight end, was two years ahead of Tim at Cuba High and had several scholarship offers but turned them down to attend a junior college. As Tim's senior season progressed, he was doing well, but not getting much attention from colleges. In a game against Lewistown (Ill.) High, he had seven sacks and an interception, and four carries for more than 100 yards. He also punted four times for a 50-yard average, including a 73-yarder Cuba downed on the one. "I don't know how many tackles I had," he recalls. "Knocked a couple helmets off."
After the game a stranger from Lewistown approached Lance and said, "You beat us by yourself!"