They form a dynamic duo for the Washington State football team: Rich Swinton, the flashy tailback, and Tim Stallworth, the speedy, silky-smooth wide receiver.
Together, gifted with more moves than Michael Jackson on stage, they give new meaning to the phrase “fast friends.”
The former Montclair Prep teammates have been particularly shifty this week in preparing for today’s game against UCLA in Pasadena.
Swinton and Stallworth are coming home. And friends and family don’t expect them to arrive empty-handed.
Game passes are a hot commodity.
The Pacific 10 Conference recommends that players from visiting teams be allowed only 2 passes each game, 2 fewer than NCAA rules permit. This leaves players returning to their hometowns in a mad scramble to wheel and deal with teammates in the days before an away game.
Swinton had secured 8 tickets by midweek but was still in search of more. “We’ve been shakin’ and bakin’ up here,” he said by phone from Pullman.
“We bargain for the best deal possible,” Stallworth said. “I’m up to 7, and that’s all I need.”
The trip south is special for Swinton and Stallworth because they will be playing key roles against a team that was formerly one of their favorites.
In the Rose Bowl.
On national television.
With a chance to knock the 7-0 Bruins off their No. 1 pedestal.
“When I think of it like that, it really is a nice opportunity,” Swinton said.
It will be only the second appearance on national network television for Washington State, which is 4-3 overall and 1-3 in the conference. The last time the Cougars made pigskin prime time was in 1958, the same year they last defeated UCLA in Los Angeles.
Stallworth, a junior in his second season as a starter, knew all along he would get a chance to show off in front of the home folks. Swinton found out last week.
On the first offensive series in last week’s game against Arizona State, Steve Broussard, the starter in the Cougars’ single-back offense, suffered a sprained right ankle. He tried to play on it but could not.
Enter Swinton, the sophomore understudy, who scratched and clawed for 193 yards in 34 carries in a 31-28 loss to the Sun Devils. It was the eighth-best rushing performance in school history. Swinton has rushed for 478 yards and 1 touchdown in 89 carries and has 6 receptions for 36 yards.
Broussard, whose 931 yards rushing ranks first in the Pac-10 and fifth in the nation, is listed as doubtful for today’s game. So Swinton will be making the second start of his college career.
Cougar Coach Dennis Erickson says Swinton’s performance against ASU was not a surprise.
“He’s come in and spelled Broussard quite a bit and usually ran well,” the second-year Cougar coach said.
Swinton questions whether Erickson was being candid, however. “I think they were surprised and are probably still surprised,” he said. “I still don’t think they know what I’m capable of doing. They probably still have their doubts, but I’m confident the more they see, the more they’ll like.”
There have been doubters before. “Ever since I started playing when I was little,” Swinton said.
First there were questions about his size--he is 5 feet, 8 inches and 185 pounds, small for a Pac-10 back--and then the size of his school. Montclair Prep, with enrollment now at 250 students, played at the 1-A level.
“No matter what I did,” said Swinton, who had 4 200-yard games as a high school senior, “it was, ‘Yeah, but he’s gaining all that yardage at a small school.’ ”
He was known as Riche Swinton back then. His given name is actually Oscar Richard, but his parents called him by his middle name and added the ‘e’ to “be different,” Swinton said.
“I’m different, too,” he added. “So I dropped it.”
Stallworth, who was a year ahead of Swinton at Montclair Prep, was best known in high school as a ferocious hitter on defense.
Most schools in the Pac-10 recruited Stallworth, but only Washington State did so as a receiver, the position he wanted to play.
“I felt I was a little too small to play DB,” said Stallworth (5-11, 175 pounds).
Perhaps he also felt playing the position was in his blood. He is the second cousin of John Stallworth, formerly an All-Pro wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That Stallworth could concentrate on football well enough to earn a scholarship was a feat in itself. During his senior year, Stallworth’s parents split up, a brother, Errick, slipped further into drugs, and another, Rodney, was stabbed to death while standing at a Reseda bus stop.
Rodney, 27, was especially close to Tim. They shared an interest in music. Rodney was a rhythm and blues singer who was scheduled to start work on his first album with Barry White.
“He was really good. He was just about to make it, I think,” Stallworth said of his older brother. “It hurt me, but I knew if he was alive he would want me to do what was best for me.”
Swinton said that Stallworth kept the problems in his personal life mostly private.
“I really didn’t know all that was going on until he came up here,” Swinton said. “It was a hard time, but I didn’t know how rough, how much it affected him, before I came up here and we started talking all the time.”
As a redshirt freshman in 1986, Stallworth played sparingly, catching 6 passes for 176 yards and 2 touchdowns. Last season, he started all 11 games, making 26 catches for 375 yards and a touchdown.
Among this season’s goals: to score 5 touchdowns and catch twice as many passes as he did last year.
He is well on his way.
In 7 games, Stallworth already has his 5 touchdowns, as well as 36 receptions (fourth best in the Pac-10) for 598 yards.
“He has always shown signs of being a great one,” Erickson said. “He’s a good athlete who has now become a good receiver. It was a matter of maturity, learning to concentrate on catching the ball, running good routes and playing hard all the time.”
In addition to being Washington State’s best receiver, Stallworth is also disc jockey at many of the school’s fraternity parties.
“Everyone loves him,” Swinton said. “He’s always the DJ at the hottest parties.”
Most of the players’ spare time, however, is passed at the movies, playing home video games and talking--which is about the gamut of activities in Pullman.
“We do a lot of talking,” Stallworth said.
The hot topic the past week: Coming home.
“I like Pullman a lot, it’s a quiet, mellow community and I’m a quiet, mellow guy,” Stallworth said. “But I also like to come back home.”
A victory over UCLA would make things that much sweeter. Swinton learned last week that individual accomplishments mean only so much when the team loses.
“I had a good game last week, but in the end we lost,” Swinton said. “The loss is always first on your mind.”