It’s very difficult not to notice Dan McGwire.
Last season, the Claremont quarterback passed for 2,246 yards, threw 24 touchdown passes and was named all-Baseline League and All-Eastern Conference. In addition, he’s captured the attention of most major college recruiters.
But those reasons, albeit good reasons, are not why McGwire stands out. It’s just that at 6 feet 8 inches, he stands out.
“He’s got such good feet for such a big man,” said Claremont Coach Bob Baiz, who has coached him for three years. As Baiz spoke during an afternoon practice, McGwire’s lanky 220-pound frame was working on 20-yard passes to a corp of receivers. “From the very beginning he’s been so good,” Baiz said. “And he always wants to be better.”
Better will be hard to find this season, at least according to Parade magazine, Street & Smith magazine and USA Today, all of which rank McGwire among the nation’s best players.
“I coached at the Purdue and Stanford camps this summer and got to see some fine players, blue chips,” Baiz said. “Dan is right up there among the best quarterbacks I’ve seen this year. He’s as good as anyone.”
Another observer from the Stanford camp, scout Dick Lascola, agreed: “He’s got a good, strong arm. . . . At this point in time, he’s got to be regarded as one of the four best quarterbacks in the country,” he said.
McGwire is a bona fide blue-chip prospect. Even so, this is pretty heavy stuff to lay on a 17-year-old student with Huckleberry Finn looks and a manner far more mature than his age would indicate. But McGwire likes being good. “Sure, I like the praise, being the center of attention,” he said. “But I don’t let it go to my head. The team is always the most important thing.”
Along with the praise comes the pressure, but McGwire knows something about the kind of pressure put on young athletes. His brother, Mark, was an All-American first baseman at USC before being drafted by the Oakland A’s in 1984. Now with the A’s Class-A team at Modesto, he holds the Pac-10 record for career home runs with 54.
“The media attention, the way he took it, I watched that,” McGwire said. “He’s not big headed about it. I try not to be, either. We’ve talked about it. I use his points like an outline.”
Said Baiz: “He’s already said no to some fine schools . . . the Ohio States, the Pitts, and the Alabamas.”
Indeed, McGwire turned away Ohio State, Pittsburgh, Georgia, and Alabama before the season started. “I don’t want to lead them on,” he said. “I mean, a school like Ohio State comes to you, and you’re flattered, but you’ve got to say no.”
Mail has become a part of McGwire’s life. He receives volumes of the stuff, from nearly every college with any kind of football program. Phone calls aren’t much fun anymore, either.
“Once I’m home from practice, I get one phone call, then I’m on the phone for the rest of the night with them (recruiters). They say they’re only going to talk for a couple of minutes, but pretty soon it’s a half an hour.
“I try not to let it bother me. I just tell them what I think, and I’m polite. From what my parents say, I’m taking it pretty well.”
He has narrowed his choices down to eight or nine schools. “Schools on the coast and Midwest that I think I would fit in at.” UCLA, USC, Washington, Stanford, Purdue, Iowa and UNLV are all on McGwire’s list. Still, “A lot of coaches come out to practice. I just ignore them and do my best.”
Neither Baiz nor McGwire worry too much about the quarterback stealing the attention away from the team, or other possible collegiate recruits. Claremont, the defending Eastern Conference champion, was 14-0 last season including a 45-0 romp over Temple City in the championship game, and begins this season ranked fifth by The Times.
“We’ve got six or seven other athletes who are being touched by this (the recruitment of McGwire),” Baiz said. “They are good players that might not have attracted the attention that Dan has. But when they (recruiters) are here to see Dan, they get to see some other fine players, too.”
Claremont will definitely not be a one-man show this year. Returning are 10 other starters, including receiver Travis Watkins, who caught nine passes for 185 yards and a touchdown in the conference championship game. McGwire completed 15 of 21 passes for 354 yards and four touchdowns in that game.
McGwire, who said he’s tried to improve his mobility in the off-season, should get good pass protection. Claremont has a line that averages 215 pounds and features three returning starters. Tackles Pete Thum (6-1, 195) and Pete Pruitt (6-1, 230), and center Louis Baiz (5-9, 185) are seniors.
Although McGwire should have no problem looking over Louis Baiz, his height will be a real advantage at the college level. “Today, a small lineman is 6-5, 6-6, and they’re just as wide,” Coach Baiz said. “Dan’s so tall, he can see over those guys and throw. The kid’s got a lot of talent and the height. You can see why everybody’s so interested in him.”
With the all the honors and attention, McGwire is still not satisfied. Baiz, trying not to give away too much of his game plan, simply said “Last year we were 40-60, 40% passing and 60% running. Let’s say that there will definitely be more passing this year.”
McGwire was a bit more specific: “I have goals for myself. I want to throw for over 3,000 yards. I want to throw for about 30 to 35 touchdowns, and at least 250 yards a game. I think that’s reasonable.”
McGwire played basketball in his junior year but doesn’t plan to play this year even though several colleges have recruited him for it. He stopped playing baseball at the Little League level because he found it boring.
“Even though I love to watch baseball, I still think it’s a stand-around game. I like to move, like football. I don’t think I would be as good at baseball as I am at football, anyway.”
Coach Baiz saw it differently. “Put it this way, if he was on the baseball team, we wouldn’t lose.”