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A Mazur Disappointment : College Glory Passed Him By, but Passing Drills and Dentist Drills May Still Be Ahead

Times Staff Writer

Three years ago, John Mazur took his football, went home and told USC he wasn’t going to play there anymore.

The former El Camino Real High quarterback, who lost his starting position to Sean Salisbury in a fierce battle during the spring of 1982, transferred to Texas A & M, determined to show the Trojan coaches they had made a mistake.

It turned out, however, that Mazur probably made a mistake.

He started his first four games at A & M, but after throwing four interceptions in a game against Oklahoma State, he was benched in favor of a freshman for the remainder of the season. The next season, when the starter went down with an ankle injury, Mazur was passed over again--in favor of a freshman.

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In his last 18 games at A & M, he played so sparingly that he threw only 13 passes, almost all of them during garbage time.

After leaving USC in a huff, he had vowed silently to come back from Texas with the Southwest Conference championships, the Cotton Bowl appearances and all the other trappings that accompany college football stardom in the Lone Star state.

Instead, all he brought back was a Texas drawl.

He didn’t even come back with enough units to graduate because he wants to get his undergraduate degree from USC.

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Living now with his parents in Canoga Park, he recently signed a free-agent contract with the San Francisco 49ers, although he describes his chances of landing a spot on the Super Bowl champions’ roster as “remote.”

Although the memories of his final years of college football are not fond ones, he said his experiences at Texas A & M taught him a lot about perseverance. He is more mature and a lot wiser than he was when he left USC, he said.

“I didn’t realize everything I had,” he said. “I had a scholarship at a great university and I was in a great football program. I kind of gave all that up. It’s something that will always bother me a little bit. But I’m not going to sit around and lose any sleep over it. . . .

“If you’re an outsider looking at it, you’d say, ‘Sure, it probably would have worked out better (if he’d stayed at USC).’ A guy got hurt there and I probably would have moved in and I wouldn’t have gotten screwed over in Texas. . . . I’ve had some regrets.

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“At the same time, I’ve learned a great lesson through all of this. Who knows, maybe it was a better lesson that I had to go somewhere and stay there and stick it out.”

Mazur’s problems at A & M began in his first season of eligibility.

After transferring from USC, he had to sit out the 1982 season, but he was happy despite the inactivity. Whenever he got the chance, it seemed, he knocked USC.

Reflecting on his USC experience, he told the Dallas Times Herald: “They (the coaches) were telling me that they never expected that much from me the first year, and then they came down on me. I get teed off thinking about it.

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“They said their passing game deteriorated at the end of the season. That’s a bunch of crap. It was there. It pulled us through the UCLA game. The passing game was going to take a back seat to the running game, and we all accepted that. The passing game was going to get more attention this year, but without me for some reason.”

He also told the magazine Texas Football before the ’83 season: “I never realized how unhappy I was out there. The school is located right in the middle of downtown, in a bad neighborhood, and it’s just a yucky environment out there. I think I was suppressing my feelings of unhappiness.”

The next season, he moved right in as the A & M starter.

And he started fast.

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In his debut, a 19-17 loss to California, he passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns. The following week, he threw for 155 yards and a touchdown in a 38-0 rout of Arkansas State.

But the next week, in a 34-15 loss to Oklahoma State, he completed only 9 of 24 passes for 71 yards, was intercepted four times and sacked three times. He was benched late in the first half of the next game, a 3-0 loss to Texas Tech, after completing four of seven passes and getting sacked three times for 31 yards in losses.

Kevin Murray replaced him and led the Aggies to four victories and a tie in their final seven games. The freshman from Dallas was named Southwest Conference Newcomer of the Year and was a second-team all-conference selection.

Mazur didn’t play again the rest of the season.

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He believes that coach Jackie Sherrill--who was in the second year of a six-year contract that pays him almost $300,000 a year, making him the highest-paid coach in college football--began feeling pressure to produce a winner. Then, when the team got off to a poor start, he said, Sherrill made him the scapegoat.

“You change quarterbacks and if that doesn’t work, the heat’s really on the coach,” Mazur said.

Initially, Mazur said, he felt relief at being benched.

“So many things were being said about the team and about me and about coach Sherrill,” he said, “that it was nice to have a week off. From there, though, it seemed like I’d done something wrong and coach Sherrill put me in the doghouse.”

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One time, Mazur said, he practiced all week as the starter while Murray nursed an injury. Led to believe he was going to start on Saturday, he called his father on Friday night and asked him to fly out to Texas for the game. Come Saturday, however, Murray started and played the entire game.

Said Mazur: “It was like, as far as coach Sherrill was concerned, I was a nobody.”

Repeated phone calls to Sherrill’s office were not returned, but former A & M quarterback coach Greg Davis, now an assistant at Tulane, said Mazur’s problem was a lack of mobility.

“We were struggling offensively,” Davis said. “It wasn’t all John’s fault by any stretch of the imagination, but we felt we needed a change. Probably the biggest athletic difference between them is that Murray’s got really good feet. Part of the problems we were having was picking up blitzes. Because of Murray’s mobility, he was able to get himself out of some jams. . . .

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“John has a good arm and he’s smart. He understands the game and the complexities of it.”

As for Mazur’s belief that he was in Sherrill’s doghouse, Davis said: “It wasn’t so much John going in the doghouse as it was the other kid really playing well.”

Whatever the reason for his demotion, Mazur began having second thoughts about leaving USC.

“I started looking back and saying, ‘Why’d I come here? I should have stayed back home,’ ” he said. “When all the things I’d hoped for didn’t work out, I started looking back and asking myself why I made this decision or that decision and saying, ‘What an idiot.’ ”

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What about all those bad things he’d said about life at USC?

“That’s stuff I shouldn’t have said. I guess I was kind of immature at the time. I shouldn’t have said those things. I guess everybody makes statements they later regret. And that’s something I regret. I should have realized more what I was saying. . . .

“I was kind of being a little selfish. Being away from there, I’ve gained a lot of respect for the university.”

Mazur may have been depressed in 1983, but last season was even worse.

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After being accepted at USC’s dental school, he initially decided not to return to A & M for his final season.

But Sherrill called him several times and convinced him he would be needed in case Murray went down with an injury. “He was good at feeding you with a lot of bull,” Mazur said.

Also, Mazur figured he owed it to himself to give it one more shot.

But when Murray broke his ankle in the Aggies’ third game, Sherrill replaced him with freshman Craig Stump, who started every game the rest of the season.

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The Aggies struggled--they lost five of the first six games Stump started--but Mazur remained on the bench. He played only enough to complete 8 of 13 passes for 52 yards and no touchdowns.

“It almost got to be a joke,” he said. “I had to sit back and laugh at it.”

Mazur said Sherrill’s assistants told him he should be playing.

“They’d do things like call me on the phone on Sunday and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, John. We should have put you in. Sorry about that,’ ” Mazur said. “And another coach would say, ‘I know you should be playing. The rest of the staff knows you should be playing, but it’s just one of those situations.’

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“What could I do? I’m sure that happens all over the place. The staff has different opinions than the head coach. For whatever reason, (Sherrill) wanted to play Craig and let my senior year go by. I think it was his decision to keep me out and not let me play at all.

“I was practicing hard. I was doing all the things he wanted. He’d say things like, ‘Are you going to be ready to go on Saturday? We’re going to be needing you.’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m ready to go.’ And he’d say, ‘We’re going to put you in early--in the first quarter.’ . . . And then, come Saturday, nothing.”

Said Davis: “I felt like we were playing the guy who was best for the situation. Again, I think part of it was because of mobility. The other kid (Stump) had a little more mobility than John did. And, you get into a situation of choosing between a freshman who’s going to be there three more years or a senior who has five games left.”

Despite the disappointments, Mazur doesn’t regard his time at A & M as a total loss. Frustrated by what was happening on the field, he worked a lot harder in the classroom, he said, and became a better student. He had a 3.34 grade-point average in bio-medical science and won the team’s award for academic excellence.

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“When you have something taken away from you,” Mazur said, “you work harder in other areas.”

Davis said Mazur continued to work hard in practice, too.

“I think anytime you’re placed in that situation it takes a big person to handle it,” Davis said. “I know there were times when John was disappointed and I’m sure there were times when he was more than disappointed, to the point of being upset with us and our decision, but I think all in all he kept his head up and did the things that we asked.

“I felt it was an unfortunate situation that John transferred, we anticipated him being the starter for two years and it just didn’t work out. The other guys came in and did a good job. And in both cases, I think it was a case of them doing a good job more than John doing a bad job. I think he handled the situation well.”

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And so, Mazur’s college career ended in frustration and disappointment.

It began amid accolades and talk of his tremendous potential.

When Mazur was a senior at El Camino Real, former USC Coach John Robinson called the 6-2, 208-pound left-hander the best prep quarterback in the country. Phil Terranova, who annually publishes the “College Handbook on College Recruiting,” said: “The guy looked fantastic every time I saw him. Unless I’m badly mistaken, Mazur is the next Kenny Stabler.”

He didn’t play at all as a USC freshman, but as a sophomore he was the starter, beating out freshman Sean Salisbury, among others. His role, basically, was to give the ball to running back Marcus Allen, who won the Heisman Trophy and became the first player in NCAA history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.

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Still, Mazur completed 48% of his passes for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns, and had only five passes intercepted. USC was 9-3, including a 26-10 loss to Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl.

The following spring, however, Mazur lost his starting spot in a spirited battle with Salisbury, who had said earlier that he hadn’t come to USC to sit on the bench and that if he lost out to Mazur again, he would transfer. Robinson called the competition between the two as fierce as any he had ever seen on a practice field.

Mazur, however, said the coaches had determined before practice started that Salisbury would be the starter. He wrote letters to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Nebraska, asking them if they were interested. None of them were.

Finally, during the summer, he decided to follow former USC assistant R. C. Slocum to Texas A & M.

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“I said, ‘What the hell?’ and I went for it,” he said. “It was a real quick decision.”

And, as it turned out, not a particularly good one.

“You get in situations that just aren’t right and all of a sudden you’re put aside, but that’s athletics,” Mazur said. “Not everybody can get in a perfect situation and get people to help them along. And sometimes you just aren’t good enough. And maybe I’m not good enough.”

He doesn’t sound convinced.

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The Houston Gamblers picked him in the United States Football League’s territorial draft, but he didn’t want to leave school to try out. He admittedly has little chance of catching on with the 49ers, but why not give it a shot?

“You never know what could happen,” he said. “It’s a screwy business. You can never pick what’s going to be a good situation. I learned that from college. . . .

“If I get cut--and chances are good that I will--it will still be a great learning experience. And, who knows, maybe someone will pick me up.

“I think if anybody gave me a shot, they wouldn’t be disappointed at all. They’d probably be surprised that I was sitting on the bench as much as I was. And I don’t mean to sound egotistical.

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“I think I’m kind of like a well that’s gone untapped.”


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