Five years before the tiny town of Trumbull, Conn., had a Little League World Series champion, it had an all-state tight end named Dave Dunn.
From Stamford Catholic, Dunn took his talents to the University of Massachusetts. But he soon became despondent and transferred to a junior college, one without a football team.
After a year off, Dunn was ready to return to football. In fact, he could not wait. "That year off made me realize just how much I missed football," he said.
He moved to the University of San Diego, which plays in the NCAA Division III, where scholarships are not allowed, recognition is slight and young men play for love of the game.
Well, Dave Dunn is a little corny. So much so that he is returning for his senior year of eligibility as a graduate student in education. Having graduated last spring with a degree in business administration, he opted to come back after determining with his parents that it was financially feasible (USD, remember, is not cheap).
Dunn is a very good nose tackle and the leader of a defense that set school records for fewest rushing yards allowed each of the past two years (800 for 80 yards per game in 1987, 663 for 73.7 in '88).
When Dunn came to USD before the 1987 season, Torero Coach Brian Fogarty was in the process of changing the defense from a scheme of bend and frequently break to an aggressive, attacking, blitzing system modeled after that of the Chicago Bears.
To be successful, Fogarty needed a rugged and quick nose tackle. Dunn fit the bill. "He actually wanted to play nose," said Fogarty, implying that the position can be hazardous to both physical and mental health.
Dunn soon caught on and excelled. He finished with 28 tackles and a sack in '87, when USD had the No. 10 scoring defense in the nation (10 points per game). Last season, Dunn improved to 48 tackles and a team-leading 12 sacks, and the defense was again among the stingiest, yielding an average of 13.8 points.
The team captain, Dunn will be counted upon even more this season because the Toreros have lost quite a few valuable players on defense, including academic All-Americans Bryan Day and John Gomez.
"Having been outstanding in defense the past two years and nationally ranked, it will be tough to get back to those levels," Fogarty said. "We've got the talent. It's just a matter of playing people in the right spots."
Unlike the past two years, Dunn will not have Gomez and David Gilmore alongside him. Jim Washam (Valhalla High) and Rick Salazar, a wrestler from Lassen Junior College in Susanville, will start at defensive tackles. Scott Slykas and Paul Sellers add depth.
Dan Chandler and Kurt Jafay are the inside linebackers, Don MacInnes (Ramona) and John Gillis the outside. MacInnes is the only returning starter. Jafay, a senior, was a fullback last season. Lenny Territo should also get plenty of playing time.
Day and Chris King, who transferred to Cal, will be missed in the defensive backfield, but Fogarty feels the position is nonetheless well stocked. Scott Bradley and Greg Frinell (Fallbrook) are the cornerbacks, Darryl Jackson and Dave Paladino the safeties. Jackson was a starter last season, as was Darby Barrett (San Pasqual), who will rotate in at corner.
A newcomer expected to play more and more as the season progresses is Danny Means, the 12th-highest scorer in USD basketball history. After using his eligibility in basketball, Means decided to try football during his final semester.
"He certainly has the potential to be an outstanding defensive back," Fogarty said. "The nice thing about it is he's come to us not expecting anything."
While the defense is undergoing these changes, rebuilding will not be a problem on offense; seven starters and many others return. "It's the most experience I can remember returning on the offensive side of the ball," said Fogarty, in his seventh year at USD.
Todd Jackson, the Toreros' leading rusher the past two seasons with 412 and 611 yards, returns at fullback. He was voted the team's offensive player of the year in '88.
Jackson will be joined in the Delaware wing-T backfield by Fallbrook's Ty Barksdale (217 yards), Charles Taumoepeau (161 yards) and Todd Whitley.
Whitley had 43 yards last year in his return from major knee surgery after suffering an injury two years ago in a high school all-star game. At North Andover High in Massachusetts, he led his team to a 29-1 record in three years and set the state career rushing record with 4,774 yards, averaging more than 10 yards per carry all three years.
Brendan Murphy will start at quarterback after edging Doug Piper (Bonita Vista) this fall. The two split time last year after Murphy started in '87. Piper threw for 756 yards, completing 57 of 103. Murphy had 242 yards on 24-of-57 passing.
Fogarty says Piper is the better passer but that Murphy seems to run the offense better.
The line, with tackles Mark Garcia (St. Augustine) and Ray Smith (USDHS), guards Jeff Carpenter and Neil Greer (a transfer from Diablo Community College) and center Gene Fontana (Grossmont) is a good one, especially with Mike Hintze (10 catches, 146 yards last year) at tight end. All were either starters or saw considerable playing time in '88.
Returners Sam McDermott (14 catches, 186 yards) and Mira Mesa's Ken Jones (11, 146) were the leading receivers last season.
The Toreros finished 5-4, including a forfeit by Menlo College.
Given some luck--like an extra inch or two on a crucial fourth-quarter fourth-and-two or an extra inch or two of height on a last pass in the end zone or an inch or two less of a reach by an opposing defender on a last-play interception in the end zone--USD could have been celebrating an undefeated season.
Instead, it lost five games by a total of 16 points. Its biggest margin of defeat was seven points. In a 6-3-1 1987 season, USD had a tie and two losses determined by a total of seven points.
But there is no truth to the rumor that USD will change the name of its home from Alcala Park to Heartbreak Ridge. At least not until after this season, which begins Saturday against Azusa Pacific at 7:30 p.m. at USD.