The Cal State Fullerton football team has always had problems attracting fans, but the Titans have made a believer of Sacramento State Coach Bob Mattos, whose Hornets play Fullerton tonight in Titan Sports Complex.
Mattos, on Fullerton's 37-14 loss to UCLA two weeks ago: "I saw the UCLA game on film, and I didn't see a big difference in talent on the field."
Mattos, on Fullerton's Big West Conference championship hopes: "They aren't as good as those great 1983 and '84 teams, but I think they'll make a run at the title. I've seen Nevada and Pacific play in person, and they're definitely as good as, or better, than them."
Mattos on Fullerton's option attack: "That's a nifty little offense they have. They're doing the right things with the kids they have. There's no coach in California I respect more than Gene Murphy. And he's funny, too. I wouldn't want to follow him on the banquet circuit."
Guess the film of last Saturday's 56-0 loss to Georgia, in which the Titans fumbled 13 times, didn't make it to the Sacramento football office this week.
Had Mattos taken a closer look at that game, he wouldn't be buttering up the Titans like a freshly toasted English muffin.
His assessment of his own team might be a little off base, too.
Mattos, on his offensive line, which averages 281 pounds per man: "They're big, but they're like a bunch of fog-bound 747s--they don't know where they're going to land."
Mattos, on his team: "We're very inexperienced. We're still trying to find ourselves."
Hint to Mattos: They're the ones who rolled up 50 points in the second half last week in a 57-9 victory over Abilene Christian. You know, the guys who are ranked 12th in Division II, rated first in the nation in total defense (87.0 yards per game) and rushing defense (minus seven yards per game) and third in scoring defense (eight points per game)?
That ring a bell? If not, then Sacramento State defensive tackle Jon Kirksey will. Kirksey is a 6-foot-5, 330-pound senior who, Mattos admits, "doesn't belong here."
The Greenville, S.C., native didn't fulfill Proposition 48 requirements in high school and went on to star at Bakersfield College, where he was rated the No. 1 community college defensive lineman in the nation in 1990.
He took recruiting trips to USC, Tennessee, Arizona State, Virginia and Sacramento State. Would you believe Sacramento State wasn't his first choice? But when he failed to earn the Associate of Arts degree needed for Division I eligibility, it became Kirksey's only choice.
He enrolled in the Division II school, which has less stringent academic eligibility requirements than Division I schools, and has caused a stir with his play and his following.
Mattos has kept a running tab on the number of NFL scouts who have visited campus to look at Kirksey this season, and as of Thursday, it stood at 52. He also has plenty of help on the line, which includes 6-3, 290-pound Val Laolagi and 6-3, 250-pound Rolinzo Flowers.
"Their defensive line is as big, strong and aggressive as any we'll see, and that includes the one we saw last week," Murphy said. "If the Rams' offense was on the field, they'd consider this an average to above average-sized defensive line. They're real good. We have to combat that by taking care of the ball and not turning it over."
The key matchups in the game will be whether Fullerton can run against Sacramento State's defensive front and whether the Titan defense can contain the Hornet offense, which features quarterback Bobby Fresques, a transfer from Wyoming who passed for 214 yards and three touchdowns in the second half last week, and tailback Pedro Lewis, who has 225 yards rushing in two games.
In the bleachers, it will be interesting to see how many fans return now that the novelty of the sports complex, which opened with the Titans' 28-7 victory over Cal State Northridge in front of 8,279 fans Sept. 5, has worn off.
"I don't think it would be realistic to expect the same crowd, but I certainly hope a good portion of those fans return," Titan Athletic Director Bill Shumard said. "We showed a good product on the field, there were very few opening-night glitches, and we've continued offering discount ticket prices. For those who whet their appetite on Fullerton football, I hope they return."
Fullerton free safety Carldale Avery, who split time with starter Al Whitten, won't play today because of a dislocated shoulder. Cornerback B.B. Hudson (ankle) is questionable. . . . Richard Fanti, a former Santa Ana High School and Rancho Santiago College standout quarterback who was third on the Titan depth chart, has apparently left the program. Fullerton coaches haven't seen or heard from him since the UCLA game Sept. 12.