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Two of a Kind : Webster Slaughter, LeRoy Wardell Have More in Common Than Delta Connection

Times Staff Writer

Maybe it is more than coincidence that receiver Webster Slaughter and cornerback LeRoy Wardell have been standouts for San Diego State this season.

Whether they have been together or apart in life, they seem to have a lot in common.

Both had difficult childhoods. Both struggled at times in football. Both played junior college football for Delta of Stockton. And both hope to play in the NFL next year.

Though both attend SDSU, they didn’t necessarily plan it that way. Yet, now that they are reunited again, they are roommates with quarterback Todd Santos.

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The stories of Slaughter and Wardell do not start in the same places, but they have been together a lot in the past four years.

At 7, Wardell was placed in a foster home in Belmont, Calif. Slaughter was raised across the street from a troubled park in South Stockton.

Both were picked on by other kids because they were small at the time. And there were other difficulties as well.

“There were times when low-riders would line up in the park across the street from where we lived,” Slaughter said. “You’d have to deal with the guys. I could just feel that by living there as long as I did, it made me appreciate other things in life like having friends.

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“I also appreciate my mother more now. If I wanted something when I was young, she tried to get it. If I didn’t get it, I didn’t understand. Now I understand why.”

When Slaughter was 13, his father died. His mother, a nurse, had the responsibility of raising two boys and three girls.

Wardell, one of six children, was placed in his first of two foster homes along with two brothers. The three brothers moved to another foster home in Stockton when Wardell was a high school sophomore.

Despite being split from part of his family, Wardell considers himself lucky. He said his foster parents made him a good person by instilling feelings of family and religious faith.

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“At an early age, I was privileged enough to have a lot of people who cared for me,” Wardell said. “They taught me a lot about life as far as manners, hard work, goodness and believing in God were concerned. I feel like I’m special because of what I learned at an early age. It was a valuable experience.”

As children, both had more to fear than fear itself.

“The kids always picked on me,” Wardell said. “I can remember always getting chased home from school. I was pretty much an outcast. In high school, I became pretty much the top guy through football. It was a big turnaround from nobody to being on top of the campus.

“I’m happier now than I was at a younger age because I remember how it was. I still respect people for who they are and what they are. I still treat people the same whether they are No. 1 or last in the class. I remember my experience.”

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Slaughter experienced similar feelings as a child. Jack Jordan, the Delta football coach, remembers Slaughter as a “runt of the litter” in grammar school.

“He was a thin kid,” Jordan said. “The kids used to pick on him a lot. I still play softball with some of his grammar school teachers, and they talk about how he used to get in fights all the time. He always fought for what he believed was right.”

Even on the football field, Slaughter has had his moments. Jordan remembered the time Slaughter said something to his junior college quarterback when the quarterback kept throwing poor passes in a game. Jordan made Slaughter play quarterback for one day in practice, which cured Slaughter.

“After one day, he didn’t want to do it,” Jordan said. “After that, he worked extremely hard at catching the ball, even if it wasn’t thrown at him.”

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Last summer, Slaughter also worked very hard. Jordan said Slaughter used to work out at noon each day when it was oftentimes hotter than 100 degrees in Stockton.

Slaughter did not even play football until his senior year in high school. Instead, he concentrated on playing baseball, basketball and the saxophone. He said he was not accustomed to taking the kind of orders football coaches are known to give.

“I had to shape up a lot in football,” Slaughter said. “Football coaches have a way of telling you to do something. I wasn’t accustomed to taking orders. I had a few problems with that the first part of last season here. I have adjusted to the system and coaches.”

Slaughter was encouraged to come out for football as a senior by his high school coach. The coach was impressed with Slaughter’s athletic ability when he watched Slaughter play basketball.

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After high school, Slaughter planned to play baseball or basketball at Cal State Stanislaus. Jordan changed Slaughter’s mind by asking him to play football at Delta.

Slaughter responded well in junior college, earning all-state honors as a sophomore. The attention was new to him, and, sometimes, it was difficult to handle.

“He wasn’t really a somebody before JC,” Wardell said. “Upon leaving, he was a somebody. At first, it’s hard to make that transition because you’re not used to the attention. Sometimes, you get big-headed. I don’t know if he got big-headed, but he eventually matured and accepted the responsibility of being a somebody.”

Coach Doug Scovil has said he thinks Slaughter is as good as Jim Sandusky, a former Aztec receiver. Sandusky is considered the top Aztec receiver in Scovil’s five years at SDSU.

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Slaughter started slowly in 1984. His break came when receiver Austin Shanks missed a team meeting and was benched for one game. In the season’s final six games, Slaughter caught 32 passes.

In two games, Slaughter has caught 18 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns. He is third in the nation in receptions per game.

“Since people are expecting a lot from me, it means we’ll throw more to me,” Slaughter said. “I like the challenge of having the ball come to me. I think all standards are possible for me to set. Some people say I’m one of the best receivers in the WAC, and I plan to prove it.”

There were times when Wardell didn’t do what was asked of him. Until his sophomore year of high school, he was a poor student.

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He knew he had the scholastic ability, but there wasn’t any motivation for succeeding in the classroom.

“At a younger age, I wasn’t academically inclined,” he said. “In high school, I had to go to class to remain eligible for football. I couldn’t flunk any classes after my sophomore year to graduate on time. Before then, I was getting two Fs a semester. Since then, I haven’t gotten any grades lower than a D.

“I used to be afraid to go to class because I wondered if I would flunk. Then, academics became a part of football. Sooner or later, I had to wake up and go to school to play football. By my senior year, I was getting As and Bs for the first time.”

On the field, Wardell always made the grade. Though he never considered himself the best player around, he always thought of himself as a standout.

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Wardell was accustomed to being around people who were somebody at Stagg High in Stockton. Two of his teammates received major-college scholarships out of high school and another was drafted by the Cleveland Indians.

Meanwhile, Wardell decided to spend his next two years at Delta. He was a second-team all-state player as a sophomore.

Last year, Wardell became a starter at cornerback for SDSU when Clarence Nunn was injured in the preseason. He finished the season with 48 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries and 1 interception.

This year, Wardell has become a leader in the secondary. In fact, before a season-opening win against Cal State Long Beach, he talked of how his team was superior to the 49ers. Players often do such after games, not before games when it becomes bulletin board material for the opposition.

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Wardell backed up his words by scoring a touchdown on a blocked punt and later blocking a field goal attempt. Against UCLA last week, he was second on the team with nine tackles.

“LeRoy’s confidence factor has really risen,” defensive coordinator Burnie Miller said. “Last year, he seemed unsure of himself. I think he could be one of the better defensive backs in the conference now. I think he has as much ability as anyone in the conference.”

Slaughter’s potential is said to be unlimited. According to Jack Jordan, several pro football scouts have told him that Slaughter is a potential first-round pick. The same scouts say Wardell could go in the third or fourth round.

“Sometimes, I think about what I’d be doing if I wasn’t playing football,” Slaughter said. “I don’t know. I’d probably still be taking saxophone lessons.”

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Said Wardell: “Hopefully, I’ll have a pro career where I can make a name for myself and help kids. I want to own a group home like my foster parents did. I’m really close with all the kids in their home now. They have about 10 delinquent kids there. When I go back, I want them to have confidence that they can do what I’m doing.”


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