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SDSU’s Rowe Having a Ball With Success : Receiver Still Rolling Up Honors, Record Numbers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

He would sit quietly in the stands, watching the game, concentrating, and the words would always drift his way.

“This started way back in Pop Warner,” Ed Rowe said.

The words were simple and direct. They were in reference to Ed Rowe’s son.

“Let Patrick have the ball!” the people would shout. “Let Patrick have the ball!”

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Patrick Rowe was a running back in Pop Warner football.

As he grew up, the words changed a bit. He became a receiver at Lincoln High School.

“Throw Patrick the ball!” they would shout. “Throw Patrick the ball!”

Eventually, people would discover that the quiet man sitting in their section was Patrick Rowe’s father. They would smile and laugh and tell Ed Rowe that they couldn’t believe he didn’t make more noise.

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Ed Rowe would just smile back.

“When you go to a game and you’re with the other parents whose kids are on the field, and the parents are calling for your son to handle the ball or run the play, you know that’s saying something,” he said. “That’s something special.”

Wherever he has gone, Patrick Rowe has been special. And now, in his senior season at San Diego State, the plea will be go out from Aztec fans . . .

“Throw the ball to Patrick,” the people will shout. “Get the ball to Patrick.”

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“He’s our franchise,” said running back T.C. Wright. “You know what I’m saying?”

People catch on. Rowe, 6-feet and 200 pounds with blazing speed and a 35-inch vertical leap, is the cover boy for one preseason football publication. He is listed as the nation’s best receiver in The Sporting News’ preseason yearbook. He also is on Playboy’s preseason All-American team.

Rowe, the SDSU receiver who catches almost everything thrown his way, already will be working on an NCAA record when the Aztecs open Sunday night against Cal State Long Beach.

When he trudged off the field for the final time last year, Rowe had a streak of nine consecutive games with at least 100 receiving yards. Nobody else in NCAA history has done it. Rowe could make it 10 consecutive Sunday.

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That’s not all. Rowe made it increasingly difficult last season for football fans who are not mathematics majors to follow his career. Numbers? There is a list that stretches from here to the NFL.

He led the nation in receiving last season with an average of 126.5 yards a game. He set Western Athletic Conference and SDSU records with 1,392 receiving yards. He and Dennis Arey became only the second pair of NCAA wide receivers on the same team to both pass the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season.

The numbers continue. If Rowe has another 1,000-yard season, he will be atop SDSU’s all-time career list.

“I don’t think about it much,” Rowe said. “The only thing I think about sometimes is the consecutive 100-yard games.”

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There was a time when Rowe, a Parade All-American at Lincoln High, thought of other things. There was a time when he wondered if he had used his allotment of big plays during high school. There was a collarbone injury before he arrived at SDSU, then an ankle injury and a knee injury and chronic hamstring troubles.

Patrick Rowe always could catch. He simply couldn’t catch his legend until last year.

It is a classic Local Boy Makes Good story.

High school star. National recognition. Big news conference on the day he chose his college.

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It could have been USC, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington or Illinois. He made recruiting visits to all of those places.

Then one day they packed the Lincoln High School gymnasium, and Patrick Rowe said San Diego State was his choice, and everyone knew he couldn’t be stopped.

But somehow, Local Boy Makes Good stories don’t seem to occur as often the ones about local boys who cannot live up to their billing. Those are the ones who, somewhere along the way, take the handoff and cut left when the hole is open to the right. They run with the wrong crowd or the personal problems stack up like sandbags blocking the way.

This was the story they started to write on Rowe. There were no personal problems for him, but he was on a first-name basis with SDSU trainers almost from Day One. The collarbone snapped during a high school all-star game the summer before his freshman season at SDSU in 1987. The ankle twisted upon his return, during a game against Texas El Paso in 1987.

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Hamstring problems popped up, and then he tore a cartilage in his knee before fall camp in 1989.

During running drills.

By then, Ed Rowe was hearing different things in the stands.

“Geez, Rowe is hurt again,” the people shouted.

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The future got cloudier. It was decided Rowe would redshirt in 1989, and he expanded his repertoire from the trainers to Dave Ohton, SDSU strength coach. What else was Rowe supposed to do while he was redshirting except lift weights and work out?

“There was a time when I thought he was going to be average because of all of his injuries,” Ohton said. “I remember bitching at him a lot, having some confrontational talks where I did the talking and told him what he needed to do.

“I thought the kid would be a flop. Injury after injury. I’ve seen some good ballplayers go through injury after injury and never reach their potential.”

As the criticism mounted, Rowe didn’t say much. But Ohton could see him out-working nearly everyone in the weight room. And other coaches watched him attend film sessions and meetings that were not mandatory for redshirts.

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“When he took a year off, I think he really understood how much he missed football,” said Curtis Johnson, SDSU receiver coach.

Said Ohton: “I think Patrick knew his day would come.”

In fact, Patrick’s year came. Chalk one up for perseverance. By last May, Rowe, a speech communications major, was spending a weekend in Miami with the other Playboy preseason All-Americans.

“Oh, that was great,” said Rowe, flashing a smile. “It was a great weekend.”

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They went deep-sea fishing, had barbecues and were guests of honor at a banquet. They did everything but meet Playboy bunnies.

“I thought for sure we were going to meet them at the banquet,” Rowe said. “But they didn’t have them.”

He did become friends with a couple of other receivers in Miami, players who will be in the Rose Bowl or the Sugar Bowl or some other bowl come the holidays. He discovered they had a lot in common, as well as a few differences. Unlike several of the nation’s top receivers, Rowe keeps his ego in check.

He telephoned Michigan’s Desmond Howard over the summer and discovered that Howard answers the telephone by simply saying, “Magic.”

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“That’s an unusual way of answering the telephone,” said Rowe, smiling. “That’s his nickname.”

And then there is Tennessee junior Carl Pickens, who does not hesitate to talk of boredom with the collegiate routine and the possibility of NFL glory.

“I’ve been doing these cone drills for three years,” Pickens told Sports Illustrated recently. “I don’t think I’m going to get any better at them.”

Rowe laughed. He enjoyed getting to know Howard and Pickens in Miami. And they amused him.

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But he doesn’t plan on changing his attitude. While former Miami receiver Randal Hill works on legally changing his name to Randal Thrill Hill, Rowe is happy to go by “Patrick” or “P.” He isn’t what is known as a good quote.

“The thing about Patrick is, he is not a prima donna about anything,” Johnson said. “He don’t brag on himself like some of the other receivers brag on themselves.”

Rowe is forever sidling up to Johnson in practice, away from the other receivers.

“Coach, what do I need to work on?” he will ask.

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Or: “Did I do that route right?”

Meet Rowe on the street and he isn’t going to pull the I’m An All-American, Who Are You? routine.

“I meet a lot of people just by talking to them,” Rowe said. “I find out people are interesting. Everybody has different experiences.”

Other Aztecs appreciate this.

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“He’s really down to earth considering the type of (publicity) he gets,” said Keith Williams, a fellow receiver. “You wouldn’t be able to tell who he was. He doesn’t wear flashy clothes, All-American sweat shirts or anything like that.”

None of that stuff turns Rowe on. No, what really fires him up are big plays and high-powered offenses. His best times in football, he said, came during his last two years in high school, when he played on some powerhouse Lincoln teams.

“Those are some highlights,” Rowe said. “Going into a game knowing that we were going to win and wondering how many points the defense would allow us to put on the board.”

Now, he is following a path that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight. What can Patrick Rowe accomplish this season? What can SDSU achieve with him in the lineup? Where will he fit with the NFL?

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After his attention-grabbing junior season, there were those who attempted to convince him not to return to SDSU for his senior year. Agents and a few people connected with the NFL talked of dollars even bigger than Rowe’s statistics.

But Rowe, who wants to finish school and help the Aztecs reach a bowl game, said he never seriously considered skipping his senior year at SDSU.

“I was curious, and I wanted to look into (the NFL) a little, but I didn’t give it any serious thought,” he said.

He said he checked it out, talked to a few friends, visited with players who had declared themselves eligible for the NFL draft, but that was about all.

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It remains a curiosity for Rowe, who still is young enough to have his future sprinkled with dreams and old enough to nearly have it within reach.

“He always asks me what defensive backs do I like,” Johnson said. “‘What do you think about this defensive back?’ Who did he ask me about the other day? A guy from Minnesota or something.”

Of course, their discussions cover receivers too.

“He really wants to play in the NFL,” Johnson said. “He’s always wondering about the competition, wondering how good this guy is or that guy is.

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“I think the kid can be as good as any of them, personally.”

Know what they’re saying at SDSU?

Throw the ball to Patrick . . . he’s the franchise.

It seems success and Patrick Rowe have become reacquainted.

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“If anything, I thought it should have happened a little sooner, to be perfectly honest,” Ed Rowe said. “Patrick is a very talented young man. I’ve known it for a long time.”

San Diego State Career Receiving Leaders by Yards

Rank Player, Years Yards 1. Tim Delaney, 1968-1970 2,535 2. Monty Gilbreath, 1986-1989 2,241 3. Gary Garrison, 1964-1965 2,188 4. Vince Warren, 1981-1985 2,134 5. Haven Moses, 1966-1967 2,103 6. Darius Durham, 1979-1982 1,988 7. Tom Reynolds, 1969-1971 1,955 8. Patrick Rowe, 1987- 1,856


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