Student-Athletes in '90s Will Be at Head of Their Classes : Football: Academics will be the key difference in players of this decade. But size, speed and a broader knowledge of the game will also be needed.


It's a foregone conclusion that the prep football player of the 1990s will be bigger, faster and stronger, but the biggest difference of all, according to coaches, is that he will have to be a lot smarter if he wants to move on to the big-time college level.

No one knows for certain what the collegiate academic minimum will be for incoming football players in 1999, but the guess is that it will be well above the current 700 minimum score on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and 2.0 grade-point average.

Douglas Hobbs, a political science professor at UCLA and chairman of the NCAA's Academic Requirements Committee, said increasing standards are a sign of the times.

"But let's not get anybody worried," Hobbs said. "Any change would allow for plenty of lead time."

Lead time or not, USC football Coach Larry Smith said increased academic standards are already having a pronounced effect.

He said he is no longer able to recruit borderline student-athletes, and there is growing pressure from his peers to recruit players with higher grade-point averages and SAT scores.

"Because of all the (Proposition) 48 casualties in California, I've been forced to do a lot of my recruiting out of state," Smith said. "With all the talent here, I should never have to do that."

Not all of the concern comes from college coaches as the focus shifts from an athlete-student to a student-athlete.

"I monitor how all of my players perform in the classroom," said Harry Welch, coach at Canyon Country Canyon High School. "If there's a problem, I make them come into my classroom for tutoring before school and on their lunch breaks. As a teacher, you have to be concerned about their progress. And as a coach, it's a necessity."

Welch learned the hard way. In 1982, his first year at Canyon, nearly half his starters were declared ineligible before a playoff game. The Cowboys went on to lose.

The situation infuriated Welch and he decided to take an active role in players' academic affairs. He hasn't had an eligibility problem since.

Even at traditionally strong academic private schools, such as Loyola and Crespi, athletes are increasingly taking advantage of counselors and tutors to help them balance sports and college preparatory courses.

Although most school districts have long followed eligibility standards that require athletes to achieve at least a C average, it was the NCAA's adoption of Prop. 48 in 1986 that helped increase academic awareness among high school athletes. Under Prop. 48, incoming student-athletes must score at least 700 points on the SAT or 18 points on the American College Test and maintain a 2.0 GPA in 11 core courses to be eligible.

In the past, athletes who didn't meet those standards could receive a scholarship as freshmen, but they lost a year of eligibility. That rule changed last month with the adoption of bylaw 14.3, which does away with partial qualifiers. Now, unless student-athletes meet Prop. 48 requirements, they won't be able to receive an athletic scholarship.

Although GPA and test scores haven't improved for incoming college freshman since Prop. 48 took effect, athletes appear to be more academically conscious. They're fulfilling their core requirements in English, math, natural science and social science and taking the college entrance exams earlier and more often, according to high school coaches.

"I think the day of the 'dumb jock' stereotype is over," said Fred Strock, associate athletic director of academics and social services at UCLA. "It's becoming harder and harder to be a dumb jock and maintain eligibility.

"Parents have become much more involved in the whole process. Parents want to make sure their kids get into college, and I see them taking a much more active role in their child's education."

Local recruiting specialist Dick Lascola said academics is one of the first criterion he evaluates when judging potential recruits.

"There's legislation this year in the NCAA to cut the amount of football scholarships," Lascola said. "With increasing competition for scholarships, grades become even more important to the college coach. Grades have always been a criterion, but now it's more important for a larger majority of the schools."

While academics might be the chief difference in the player of the '90s, increased size, speed and a broader knowledge of the game also will be trademarks.

Size is a noticeable difference. When Lascola started evaluating football recruits in 1976, he said he would look at linemen that were 6 feet 2 and bigger. Now he rarely bothers unless they're at least 6-4. Two of the top lineman prospects in Southern California this season are Montclair Prep's Donovan Roy, who is 6-6, 280 pounds, and Temple City's Matt Gilmour, who is 6-5, 220.

Other positions have been affected, too. El Toro's Rob Johnson is generally regarded as the top quarterback this season, and he is 6-4, 210.

The trend toward "bigger is better" is expected to continue as coaches emphasize weight training. Weightlifting took off in the 1980s, and there is hardly a football program around that doesn't have all its players on a rigorous training schedule.

Fontana Coach Dick Bruich has his players in the weight room year-round, and if they don't lift, they don't play. Loyola Coach Steve Grady puts his best players in a special weightlifting club, which meets at 6 a.m. three days a week in the summer. Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle used to drive his players to a gym in Long Beach to lift weights in the 1950s, but now the school has one of the biggest weight rooms in the area and a strength coach to monitor the program.

"When you're stronger you can do more things," Vollnogle said. "You have less injuries and you can use more force. Weightlifting really changed a lot of elements of the game. We'll continue to look for new lifting techniques to keep getting stronger."

Getting bigger does not mean that players are getting slower, however. Coaches have been careful to mix speed workouts with weight-training sessions. Lascola said a defensive lineman who is 6-7, 250, won't get many scholarship offers if he runs a 40-yard dash in 5.6 seconds. This year's top defensive line recruit, Pat Riley of Marrero Shaw High in Louisiana, runs the 40 in 4.4. Most of the top prospects run under 5.0.

Southern California's top running back, Napolean Kaufman of Lompoc, is the defending state champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and runs the 40 in 4.4. He long jumps 24 feet and has great hands. Although he is only 5-9, he can dunk a basketball. Kaufman also returns punts and kickoffs and plays defensive back.

Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes knows athletes such as Kaufman are the difference between a mediocre team and a contender. That is why Los Alamitos' players spend plenty of time working on agility drills. A program consisting of long-distance runs, sprints and jumping drills is religiously followed. It is not uncommon to see Los Alamitos' players running backward up a hill near the school.

"If a kid comes to Los Alamitos as a freshman and he's 5-11, 165, he'll be 5-11, 190, as a senior if he sticks with football the whole time," Barnes said. "He'll leave here a much better all-round athlete."

Barnes also happens to have one of the most wide-open offenses in the area, using a sophisticated passing attack. He built it around former quarterback Todd Gragnano, who graduated last year after a banner career. Barnes said his players learned the system quickly and he expects them to handle even more knowledge in the future as the game becomes more complex.

"The game is getting better because the coaching is getting better," Barnes said. "We also can do more things because the staffs are bigger and the players are smarter. They're watching more football on television than they used to, so they've seen more things done. By the time we get them, they're better prepared than they used to be."

Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson has some of the most talented players in Southern California. Because many of the school's students come from affluent families, they often are able to afford first-class training.

Mater Dei freshman quarterback Justin Vedder is no physical giant at 5-6, 140, but after three years of intense training at the Performance Institute in Anaheim, Vedder is receiving a lot of attention from the coaching staff. He will start on the freshman team this season and Rollinson said he has a chance to make the varsity next year.

"He's got a bullet for an arm," Rollinson said. "He's also very mature for his age."

At the Performance Institute, Vedder was put on a special training schedule catered to his physical abilities and desires.

The institute is owned and operated by Marv Marinovich, the father of USC quarterback Todd Marinovich. Todd often has been referred to as "Robo QB" because his athletic career has been so well planned by his father.

Vedder, 15, did not lift weights and run up mountains at the institute, but instead worked on developing his peripheral vision, flexibility, muscle balance and nutrition.

"What we are is a school that teaches people how to do things like eat, run and coordinate their busy schedules," Marinovich said. "We also do psychological testing. Our center is not for the everyday average guy who wants to participate. We're geared toward the serious athlete who wants to be tops in all areas."

Increased competition is forcing the player of the '90s to take advantage of new training techniques, such as the one Marinovich uses. Although the Performance Institute is the only one of its kind in Southern California, Marinovich said he expects several more to open in the area in the next few years.

Players already are spending more time practicing and preparing for games. Major programs demand that players train year-round, taking advantage of intense conditioning programs, spring drills and summer passing leagues. Many top players limit their athletic participation only to football. The demands probably will increase with time.

"It's a sign of the times that to excel past the high school level, you have to spend 12 months training for a sport," USC's Smith said. "The competition is fierce."

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