FREEDOM BOWL NOTES : Aztecs' Success Represents Part of Eric Duncan's Happy Ending

TIMES STAFF WRITER

San Diego State defensive end Eric Duncan is smiling this week.

He is at the Freedom Bowl, his team is 8-3-1, and he went to Disneyland.

"You couldn't ask for anything more," Duncan said. "Maybe the Holiday Bowl (home of the Western Athletic Conference champion), but, hey, this is the next best thing."

Probably nobody exemplifies SDSU's rags-to-riches story more than Duncan. One of only 13 seniors on the team, he had to make the Aztecs as a walk-on in 1988 and didn't receive a scholarship until the second semester that year.

He became a starter six games into the season, but it wasn't much to remember--the Aztecs went 3-8.

But Duncan persevered. He has started each game since and was a first-team all-WAC selection this year.

And, he is on track to graduate in 4 1/2 years. He figures to finish school next December with a major in physical education and a minor in biology.

Still, even this season didn't start well for Duncan. His wife, LaVonia, suffered a miscarriage five months into pregnancy at the end of last summer, and Duncan missed a couple of practices during fall camp while trying to pick up the pieces.

"The defensive coaches were really strong for me, and I thank them for that," said Duncan, who is from Stockton. "The coaches really came in and kept me from being too emotional."

Duncan said both he and his wife are doing well now, and Duncan is where he expected to be.

"After last year, I knew we had a great chance of getting (to a bowl)," Duncan said. "A lot of guys took a lot of pride in it this summer while working out, and seeing that, you knew there would be a turnaround this year."

Add Duncan: He was recruited by SDSU assistant Ed Schmidt, although the youngster was not offered a scholarship originally because of a misunderstanding.

According to Duncan, he was not in school the day Schmidt had set up an appointment with him, and so Schmidt didn't think he was interested in SDSU. You've heard of the dog eating someone's homework? Duncan's excuse ranks right up there.

"I had my brother's car that day, and his key broke off in the door in the student parking lot," Duncan said. "I spent the day running back and forth to the key shop."

Tulsa quarterback T.J. Rubley has thrown for 9,324 career passing yards, ranking 12th on the NCAA all-time list. But the Golden Hurricane prefers a running game and runs approximately two plays to every one pass.

At the Rotary Kick-Off Luncheon on Friday, Tulsa Coach David Rader was asked why he prefers the run when he has a talented passer at quarterback.

Rader's reply: "If it was up to (Rubley), he'd have 15,000 yards."

Said Rubley: "A lot of yards came early in my career when we would get down early and have to try to come back."

Notes

SDSU linebacker Chad Provensal missed practice Friday because he was sick. . . . Rubley suffered a cut on the ring finger of his throwing hand when he reached into his travel bag to pull out his razor. He also has three jammed fingers on his throwing hand, and with several NFL scouts on hand at Tulsa's practice, he was disappointed with the way he was throwing.

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