Everything's Coming Up Roses : For months, college recruiters have fawned over Jim Bonds and Ken Sollom as they lobbied for their services. Now, the wait is over--UCLA and Michigan are the winners. The following is an introspective look at the days leading up to their decisions.

Times Staff Writer

The year is 1990. Jim Bonds, junior quarterback at UCLA, has led the Bruins to a Pac-10 title. He is the latest model of the "Gutty Little Bruin," scrambling and ad-libbing the team to a sparkling record.

The drop-back skill of Michigan's Ken Sollom, meanwhile, has forced Coach Bo Schembechler to finally fine-tune the passing game. Sollom, a poised junior, braved icy conditions to defeat Ohio State and send the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl, where they will meet UCLA on New Year's Day.

"Coming back and playing UCLA would be great," Sollom said. "I've already thought about it."

After months of intense recruiting by every Pac-10 school and numerous others across the country, Bonds last week committed to UCLA and Sollom to Michigan.

Michigan and UCLA meet during the 1989 and 1990 regular seasons. Just hope Sollom (6-2, 190) and Bonds (6-0, 185) provide entertainment like they did the last time they met--when Canyon High defeated Hart, 42-32, to open the 1986 football season.

Bonds and Sollom.

Sollom and Bonds.

So different in style, yet so similar in their success. Just like their new football conferences.

Pac-10, Big Ten.

Big Ten, Pac-10.

Both quarterbacks dealt with the same kind of recruiting pressure, but landed at colleges worlds apart.

UCLA, Michigan.

Michigan, UCLA.

Bonds and Sollom, Sollom and Bonds . . .

A diary detailing the recruiting trails and trials of both:


Before Hart and Canyon clash Sept. 12 at College of the Canyons, Hart Coach Rick Scott talks about the gunslingers who will duel at the COC Corral.

"Jimmy and Ken are throwbacks to another era," Scott says. "They approach football and life in general the way athletes did in the 50s--no nonsense . . . They are just perfect kids, very much alike."

Thoughts of college are distant as Bonds and Sollom prepare for the game. Yet they know the same school is not in their future.

Bonds: "I would never go to a college that Ken was going to . . . I sure wouldn't want to be competing against him for a job for four years."

Sollom: "I'm sure we won't end up at the same college."

Recruiters--especially those from Arizona, USC and Stanford--have been in frequent contact with Bonds since his junior year when he passed for 2,252 yards and led Hart to the Coastal Conference final.

Scott is happy to show game films and talk about his quarterback. Only one subject is taboo--Bonds' height, or lack thereof.

"I tell the college recruiters not to even talk to me about Jim's height," Scott says. "If they insist, I tell them I won't show them any game film . . . Don't hang a kid on this height business. If he's 5-11 1/2 or 6-0 or whatever, what difference does it make?"

Now, of course, it doesn't make any difference.

Q: So, really, how tall is Jim Bonds?

A: Tall enough to earn a scholarship to UCLA.

Canyon stands taller than Hart for the fourth straight year as Sollom throws for 4 touchdowns and completes 13 of 22 for 214 yards. In a catch-up role, Bonds calls signals out of a no-huddle offense and completes 22 of 32 passes for 318 yards and 4 touchdowns. It is a memorable display of quarterbacking.

"With those two out there it had the look of a well-played college game," says Canyon Coach Harry Welch, whose team won its 39th straight game.

Suddenly Sollom, who did not start as a junior until the playoffs, is getting attention from colleges equal to that being showered on Bonds.


Both quarterbacks receive piles of mail and dozens of calls a week from colleges.

And both teams are winning. Canyon's streak has reached 42 after a win over Notre Dame on Oct. 4. Hart rebounds from the loss and begins its own winning streak.

Michigan and Arizona are the schools contacting the quarterbacks most regularly. BYU is interested in Bonds and the head coach from Kansas has called Sollom.

"It's not bothersome yet," Sollom says. "I think about it when I get home from practice. I just don't want to go where most of the games are in the snow."

Bonds has an edge in handling the attention. His brother, Tom, was recruited out of Hart in 1983 and is a two-time All-American quarterback at Cal Lutheran University.

"Tom helps," Jim says. "He tells me to block it out of my mind. It's fun talking to recruiters, but on Friday night it's the last thing on my mind."

When a school calls for the first time, Bonds checks the sports pages to see how many times that school passed the week before.

Recruiters are the ones checking sports pages the day after Halloween. In a 49-7 win over Alhambra, Bonds passes for six touchdowns and, at one point, completes 16 consecutive passes. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue calls Bonds the day after the game and invites him to attend the UCLA-Stanford game the following weekend.

"He said he heard I was having a good season," Bonds says. "I told him I couldn't go because I wanted to see Tom's Cal Lutheran game."

Bonds attended the USC-Washington game with his parents as a guest of the Trojans the week before. "The locker room was madness," he says.

Meanwhile, Canyon extends its streak to 46--which ties the Southern Section record--against Quartz Hill behind 4 touchdowns and 284 yards passing by Sollom

Colleges are secretive about whom they are recruiting and coaches from UCLA, Michigan, USC and Arizona State decline to discuss Bonds or Sollom with a reporter.


Canyon's streak ends with a one-point loss on a chilly night at Antelope Valley High when Sollom--who throws three touchdown passes in the last five minutes--is tackled inches from the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt.

Calls from recruiters also stop--for about two days.

"They usually call and say, 'Great game,' " Sollom says. "Now they had to say, 'What happened?' "

Because Canyon's practices are unusually long and arduous, Sollom is asleep long before the nightly calls cease. "They talk to my parents," he says. USC, UCLA, Arizona, Stanford and BYU are the most frequent callers.

After Bonds throws for 340 yards and 5 touchdowns against Burbank, two USC assistant coaches, Ron Turner and Foster Andersen, call him and invite him to the next week's game against Cal.

"They must have got their signals crossed," Bonds says.

The signals from other schools are making Bonds cross.

"Stanford is pushing too hard," he says. "They're worried about me getting in. It's not one of my first choices, anyway. They sent me an application and I haven't gotten around to filling it out."

More misinformation: Coaches from Memphis State and Louisville visit Hart and say they understand Jim's father is retiring and moving to Memphis. Is it true?

"Not unless you can come up with some quick beachfront property," Jim Bonds Sr. tells them.

Sollom is invited to attend the USC-Cal game. "USC has been trying to get me to go for a long time," Sollom says.

Canyon has a team meeting every Saturday and Welch, who cheerily fields daily calls on Sollom, always objects to the quarterback missing it for a college game.

This time he relents and Sollom takes his girlfriend, father and a friend.

"It's a lot different than high school," says Sollom, who was invited into the locker room after the game. "Ryan Knight had all these microphones and lights in his face. I'm not ready for that. I felt nervous just watching him."

The moment Sollom gets home, the phone rings. It's an assistant coach from Michigan asking if he is still interested in the Wolverines. "I told him, 'Sure,' " Sollom says.

Having passed for 11 touchdowns in two games, Bonds is swamped with attention. "Good games makes it easier for them to talk to me," he says. "Everything is cheery. I dreamed of getting all this attention and I wasn't sure if it would come true. Tom got a few letters and that was exciting. But it was nothing compared to this."

Both quarterbacks attend the USC-UCLA game at the Rose Bowl on Nov. 22. Their seats are in the same row but they don't exchange more than a "Howdy."

Bonds: "I thought Ken had something against me. It was awkward. I wanted to go over and sit with him and talk, but the situation wasn't right."

Sollom: "I like Jim a lot. I wasn't sure what to say. That's just the way I am."

Bonds leaves early but Sollom visits the UCLA locker room after the game. Randy Austin, a freshman linebacker who played at Canyon, introduces Sollom to several Bruins. The quarterback is enthusiastic.

"I was really comfortable," Sollom says. "The DB (defensive backs) coach, Tom Hayes, said they are very interested in me and that they will keep in touch."

Sollom's last victory at Canyon--a second-round playoff win over Thousand Oaks--is a time for celebration. It would have been less so had he known the content of the report a UCLA recruiter files.

"He told me Ken didn't have very good feet," Welch says. "I said, 'We're talking a different language.' Ken has excellent feet. He sidesteps a rush and completes passes time and again."

Sollom, who drives a dilapidated VW and saunters around campus with a Canyon baseball cap set back on his head, is an easygoing teen-ager. But on the field his intensity is razor sharp.

Told of UCLA's rebuff, Sollom's eyes narrow the way they do when he spots an open receiver.

"That hurts," he says. "They told me they would keep in touch and they never even called." He smiles slowly. "It's their loss," he says quietly.


Sollom's high school career fizzles in a drizzle Dec. 5 at Glendale High, where the Cowboys lose to Muir, 22-14, in a Coastal Conference semifinal. In Sollom's three varsity seasons, Canyon had a record of 39-2. Now, he is looking toward the future. "It's time to start planning for an important decision," he says.

A recruiter from Michigan visits Canyon on Dec. 9 and volunteers to help Sollom make the decision. "He was telling me questions I should ask other schools," Sollom says. "Like, 'How many quarterbacks do you have? Will I have to redshirt my first year?' "

Hart, meanwhile, advances to the Northwestern Conference final and faces Temple City at Citrus College on Dec. 13. Terry Donahue shows up on the Hart sideline, which irritates Coach Rick Scott.

"We worked really hard to get the kids to concentrate," Scott says, "and whether it's Terry Donahue, Heather Locklear or Farrah Fawcett, if it's somebody they know, it's a distraction."

Bonds doesn't appear too distracted. He passes for 272 yards and Hart wins, 40-27. Donahue leaves late in the second quarter--right after watching Bonds scramble and hit Brian Millner with a 54-yard bomb.

"I didn't even know Coach Donahue was there," Bonds says.

The Southern Section record book has taken as big a beating as Hart's opponents. Bonds finishes second in passing yards in a season (3,197), third in touchdowns in a season (39), fourth in career touchdowns (55), fourth in career completions (381) and fifth in completions in a season (202). Sollom has 2,884 yards and 29 touchdowns, giving the quarterbacks a combined 6,081 yards and 68 touchdowns.

Michigan is in town for the Rose Bowl and each quarterback attends a practice. Bo Schembechler takes 15 minutes away from practice to chat with Bonds and his family.

"He's a dynamic man with a commanding personality," Bonds says. "We were so excited about Michigan that day. It was like I was ready to enroll."

Sollom also likes Schembechler. "He's a fireball but a good person," he says. "He's intense like Coach Welch. I could play for him."


Donahue is at the Bonds home the morning after Michigan loses to Arizona State in the Rose Bowl.

Bonds smiles at the timing. "Coach Donahue is a smooth talker," he says. "My dad likes him. He told me I'm the only quarterback they're recruiting. I would say the tables turned that day."

The NCAA allows recruits to visit five colleges. Bonds and Sollom are each extended invitations by more than a dozen schools. Still, recruiters refuse to discuss the quarterbacks with a reporter.

They talk frequently with Scott and Welch, however. Sometimes a coach offers valuable information--like the player's real name.

Says Welch: "A recruiter from Arizona called and said, 'I'm returning a call about Mike Solomon. I don't think the University of Arizona needs a 5-11, 160-pound quarterback,' "

Welch sets the recruiter straight on Sollom's name, height and weight. The Arizona quarterback coach flies in the next day and watches Sollom pitch baseball after school. He turns to Welch and says, "Looks closer to 6-3, 200 to me." Arizona offers Sollom a visit, but he turns it down.

The subject is not always football when a recruiter speaks to a high school coach.

"They want to know what kind of kid Ken is," Welch says. "They want to know about his family and girlfriend."

Welch mixes girls and recruiting when giving Sollom advice. "Being recruited is like meeting a real pretty girl," he says. "If she likes you and you like her, don't look any further. If you continue to scout around, she might not be there when you look back."

Sollom takes the advice--when choosing a girlfriend, anyway. Her name is Kristin Harrington, they have gone out since November, and Sollom says, "I'm whipped over.

"All the recruiters ask me about her. They think she will influence me to stay in California. It may sound stupid, but she wants to go to college wherever I go."

Ken's mother, Sandy, is concerned that Kristin is influencing his decision. "She's a really nice girl," Sandy Sollom says. "But the longest relationship Kenny has ever had is three months."

Sollom has scheduled visits to Michigan, Oregon State, Purdue and USC. Is there an early favorite? Well, Kristin Harrington has an aunt living in Detroit.

Bonds broke up with his girlfriend in November. "She moved to San Diego and my dad and I thought that since I was leaving for college, I should break loose."

Because Bonds doesn't have a steady girl, his mail is different than Sollom's. A hand-written letter from a Michigan student named Karen Sandstrom beckons Bonds to the school. "I'm a member of the True Blues and am looking forward to meeting with you. . . ."

Bonds never has a chance to meet her. After visiting UCLA, USC and Arizona, he cancels a visit to Michigan.

"Jimmy was a little fearful of going back there and being backed into a corner," Jim Sr. says. "If there was pressure, it was from Michigan. They were always pushing, pushing, pushing for an answer."

Both quarterbacks have close relationships with their parents. Sollom does not schedule a visit the weekend of his 18th birthday so he can celebrate with his family. Bonds, who says his best friends are his father and brother, has hourlong discussions with his father in the backyard hot tub a couple evenings a week.

"We get away from the TV, phone, all the interruptions," Jim Bonds Sr. says. "We do a lot of communicating. It's been that way since Jimmy and Tom were 5 years old."

The subject since September has been college. "I make the final decision," Bonds says. "Dad made that clear. Tom and he are there to tell me the good and bad about every school and make sure I know what I am getting myself into."

The pressure of a decision is wearing on Sollom's relationship with his parents. "It's getting so we can't talk about it without shouting," he says. "And we never argue about anything else."

Says Sandy Sollom: "He's getting pressure from home and from recruiters. His father and I have a preference, yes. And there has been friction. But this is so important to Kenny."

Sollom feels uncomfortable during his visit to Michigan, and returns from Oregon State the next week feeling good.

"The people are really friendly," he says. "And the rain won't affect me. I've played in the rain before."

It snowed three inches during his weekend at Michigan and Schembechler asked him if he could handle the weather. "I said I thought so," Sollom says.

The pace is hectic the last week of January. Sollom forgets an appointment with Oregon State assistant coach Marc Weber, who has flown in to meet him. "I knew I had to be somewhere at 2:30, but I couldn't remember where," Sollom says. "He called me that night all bummed out and asked me if I was still interested in OSU. I said, 'Oh, yeah.'

"I can't wait until this is over. I didn't think it would be this bad. Everybody has an opinion--my teachers, my friends. When I decide, I'll know I did the right thing."

Donahue calls Bonds during halftime of the Super Bowl. "He's called from five states in five nights," Jim Bonds Sr. says. "He was insistent to get us alone and explain his decision not to take the job with the Atlanta Falcons.

"That personal touch is really impressive."


Bonds returns from Arizona--his last visit--on Feb. 1, and tells his father, "Arizona is the place for me."

It's back to the hot tub that night for a long talk. Tom joins Jim and his father. "Jim was emotionally high from the trip. Tommy and I didn't discourage him," says Jim Bonds Sr. "We just wanted to bring him back to Earth."

In the tranquility of that setting, sometime around 11 p.m., the decision is made. Bonds calls Donahue, who has been waiting up to hear from him, and verbally commits to UCLA.

Says Bonds: "He said, 'Congratulations. Now you can get some sleep.' "

Sollom isn't sleeping well these days, either. On the plane ride home from Purdue--his last visit--he reconsiders Michigan.

"It was my first visit," he says. "That's why I was uncomfortable. I realized it is a classy operation and I would get a great education."

When he gets home he cancels his visit to USC, narrowing the alternatives to three. "Great people at USC," he says. "They just have so many quarterbacks."

He calls Welch on Feb. 1 and says he is leaning toward Michigan. Welch and Sollom's parents are delighted--Michigan was their preference all along.

The next day two USC coaches and a Purdue coach visit Canyon for a last-minute push. It's too late--Sollom calls Michigan and makes a verbal commitment.

"Michigan is first class and Ken will fit in nicely," Welch says. "Ken can handle Bo. He made a great decision."

Schembechler is the only coach who can offer a Michigan scholarship. He calls Sollom the next day and says, "Welcome, you're now part of a great tradition."

The choices are made and next fall Sollom and Bonds can get back to doing what they do best--play quarterback.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World