Compton College seems an unlikely place for someone from an Idaho farm, but Dave Massie, 23, a former MP in the Air Force, is happy to be there as a freshman on the football team.
"Hey, Super Dave," running back Heuston Costello said in the Tartars' locker room last week as Massie pulled on a maroon jersey.
In light of the season opener a few days earlier, the nickname fit. Massie had blocked a field goal, recovered a fumble, made eight tackles and two sacks in a 12-6 loss to San Bernardino Valley College. He was named the state's community college player of the week.
In a short time he has become perhaps the school's most recognizable student. "When I walk around, it's, 'Hey, Dave, what's up?' " Massie said. "They all know me 'cause I'm the big white guy on the campus."
As the team's only white player--and its oldest--Massie stands out, Coach Lalo Mendoza says, "like a sore thumb." His leadership and 6-foot-5, 255-pound size also set him apart.
"I've never heard him say anything negative, never heard him bitch to anybody," Mendoza said. "(We'll) make him do some push-ups because he went offsides, and he'll say, 'How many, coach, 15? I'm going to do 25.' He's just that kind of guy. And he's a motivator in the weight room, the first one in there and the last one to leave."
On the practice field, Massie acted as if he alone carried the burden of creating a spirited mood. He ran everywhere and attacked each assignment with what he refers to as his 150%. The pads on his big forearms were soiled. His lower back glistened with sweat.
"We're gonna win this game!" he hollered as the Tartars drilled for last Saturday's game against Santa Monica College. He emitted guttural yells when he collided with a fellow lineman or Big Brutus, the blocking dummy that hangs defiantly from a chain.
Massie intends to win a scholarship in football or baseball, his first love, to a Division I university and get a degree in engineering.
"He's already lived quite a life," Mendoza said. "We get a lot of kids from Compton, Centennial, Dominguez and Lynwood. Most have very little parental guidance, so when they see this guy coming out of the Air Force, and see the kind of work ethic he has, several of them follow right along because they don't want to be left out. They want to be a part of something positive."
Massie learned a valuable lesson growing up on a farm in Filer, Ida.
"My parents taught me that if you want something you've got to earn it," he said. "They weren't given anything."
After high school, where he excelled as a baseball pitcher, Massie briefly attended the College of Southern Idaho in 1985. But because it had no football team and he had arrived too late to play baseball, he soon joined the Air Force. He was stationed for a year in Korea, then for three years in Great Falls, Mont.
There had been unfulfilling service flag football games, in which Massie incurred frequent penalties for unnecessary roughness. He added muscle during those years to conform to an MP's strong, quick image. He said he could run 1 1/2 miles in nine minutes in combat boots and full dress uniform.
Last January, with his discharge imminent, Massie longed to play football and baseball. He contacted Compton, Southwestern and El Camino community colleges because he and his former wife had planned to move from Montana to Hawthorne.
"I had no idea what these California schools were like, or where they were," Massie said. "Compton was the first school I called. Coach Mendoza sounded like he was interested in having me come down and play, and he said he lost a lot of linemen."
Massie welcomed the opportunity to try to revitalize the Tartars, who have had five consecutive losing football seasons. Last season, the first under Mendoza, who came from Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, they were 1-9.
But now there appears to be more talent and desire. "Things are different, we aren't about to get our butts kicked," Massie said. "I want to be part of something that's going to be changing."
On a leave in March, Massie visited Compton for the first time. He decided to enroll because of the impressions Mendoza and baseball Coach Simon Peters made on him.
Massie was ignorant of the city. "When I first contacted Coach Mendoza, he said, 'Do you know anything about Compton?' I was like, 'No sir.' When I showed up in March, he was surprised because he figured me being white and after I heard that 90% of the school is black, that I was going to be turned off. But I (decided) I'm not going to have people tell me it's a bad school or it's in a bad area. I'm going to have an open mind.
"When I got here," continued Massie, who lives in an apartment in Lakewood, "I did hear more about the big rap people and the gangs, and it didn't bother me. But when I brought a couple of friends down from Idaho they were like, 'Dave, you're going to Compton .' It didn't hit my mother till she saw one of those cop shows and they had a bust on Compton Boulevard. She always worries about her son."
Massie's father, James, manages a bean warehouse in Filer, and his mother, DeAnne, is a bookkeeper for a grain company.
"I think Dave can take care of himself," James said over the telephone. I told DeAnn, 'We've got to trust him.' "
In the locker room the other day, Massie was telling teammate Willie Billingsley, a freshman from Compton High, about Idaho, although Billingsley kept confusing it with Iowa. "You have to drive 10 miles to go to a grocery store," Massie said, "and where I come from, if you don't have cable, you get only one channel."
"You ain't got no AM-PM (Mini Marts) there?" Billingsley asked.
Both players laughed.
"All the guys have been really good to me," Massie said later. "I have nothing but good feelings about the college. I'm easy to get along with. The big reason I get along with everybody is 'cause I'm just a laid-back guy. As long as you don't treat me like I'm different, we're going to get along great, 'cause I don't look at you as being different."
Asked if he might blend in even better if he wore an earring like some of his teammates do, he laughed and said, "If I came home with one of those, my dad would probably yank it off."
Massie's easygoing, rural shyness makes people doubt that he plays football, although his size suggests he does.
"They say, 'You're too kind, you're real nice,' but they don't see me on the football field," he said. "I don't want my girlfriend or anybody to see me on the football field, 'cause when it comes down to it, only the strong and the meanest out there are going to survive. When you're in those trenches, I mean to say it's do or die."
Last Saturday, Massie, who played both ways, had nine tackles and four sacks, but the final score was all too familiar for followers of the Tartars: Santa Monica 53, Compton 26.
"We had a couple of letdowns," he said.
But this Monday, Massie came out to practice the same way he had the week before--enthusiastic, undaunted and ready to lead.