The Cal State Northridge football team's near-unanimous boycott of practice this week was surprising. Other protests associated with the team have inspired little support.
And because the players said little except "no comment" after deciding to skip drills Monday afternoon, their apparent change of heart was left temporarily unexplained.
One player, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the one-day act of disobedience was intended to be an innocent show of support for more hard-line members of the team intent on making a stand.
Coley Kyman, who attended a team meeting with Athletic Director Bob Hiegert on Tuesday despite injuries that will sideline him for the rest of the season, summarized the situation this way: "People wanted a meal plan, and they decided to make a statement. That's what (Monday) was, a statement."
There are some Matador football players who attend school and practice hungry. Vincent Johnson, one of the organizers of Monday's boycott, said he saw players coming to Tuesday's practice while nibbling on pieces of bread.
"We're out here expected to play hard and practice at a high level and guys are eating bread before practice," said Johnson, a starting cornerback. "That's inhumane."
Johnson said Tuesday that he had eaten his last meal at around 6 p.m. the previous day. "Sometimes, it's either I pay rent and don't eat, or I eat and get backed up on the rent," Johnson said. "I've missed lots of meals."
Tim Gardner, Northridge's starting nose tackle, receives a partial scholarship and other need-based financial aid, yet said he often must commute to his mother's home in South Central Los Angeles to eat.
Gardner said he knows no one who wants to see the football team disbanded, but that team members felt "powerless" after being warned that missing a practice or game would result in suspensions and their scholarships possibly being revoked.
Northridge coaches are not being held responsible by the players for the financial shortcomings of the Matador football program.
"They can't do anything about the problem other than ask what we want," Johnson said. "They're kind of in the middle. They're with us, but they have a job whether we're here or not."
Johnson and Gerald Ponder, the organizers of Monday's football practice boycott, are considered the two players most likely to miss Northridge's game at Nevada Las Vegas on Saturday.
While Ponder issued a terse "no comment" on Tuesday, Johnson candidly said he was considering his options and might still choose not to play.
The loss of both, or even one, might mean trouble against the Rebels, who average 204.8 yards passing per game. Johnson, a starting cornerback and Ponder, the Matadors' free safety, comprise half of the American West Conference's best secondary.
Northridge allows a conference-low 137 passing yards.
Coach Bob Burt predicted the meal plan issue would not splinter the team. Instead, he said it might pull the Matadors closer together.
"I have a very strong feeling about there being a real bonding process here the rest of the year," he said.
Punter Albert Razo says he will be on the bus for Las Vegas Friday morning--with or without the majority of his teammates. "We'll have 11 guys there," he said. "And if we have to, we'll play with that."
Asked if he had eyes on becoming the Matadors' quarterback, Razo quipped, "Quarterback, sure. Whatever. How about middle linebacker?"
A quarterback at La Habra High, Razo is the team's third and final resort at that position. He is, however, the American West Conference's top punter, averaging 41.9 yards per kick.
Although the women's cross-country team has competed in four meets this season, the Matadors have only been at full strength for two of them.
Because Northridge is required to compete in six cross-country meets by Oct. 23 to fulfill sports NCAA Division I sponsorship requirements, Matador Coach Don Strametz has had to be picky about when he'll run a full team.
On Saturday, for instance, Lori Miller and Michelle Ishio did not run in the Biola invitational and the previous week, Jennifer Andrews sat out the UC Riverside invitational.
"I don't want to over-race anyone so I've had to pick and choose what races which individuals are going to run in," Strametz said. "It's just one of those things we've had to put up with since moving to the Division I level."
Fulfilling Division I requirements should get a little easier for Strametz & Co. next year when Northridge, an independent in cross-country, will become a member of the American West Conference. The conference championships will count as one of the required six meets.
Pierce Coach Hurting
Pierce assistant football coach Pat Swift, who was hit on the head with a crutch during a postgame brawl between the Pierce and Harbor teams on Sept. 25, is out of the hospital and recuperating at home in Palm Springs.
Brahma Coach Bill Norton said that Swift, who was knocked unconscious and had been hospitalized since the incident, has requested no phone calls.
"He still has splitting headaches and still doesn't feel great," Norton said. "There's a 50-50 chance he'll be at our game Saturday."
Pierce will be at home against Moorpark in a WSC interdivisional game. Both teams are unbeaten in conference play.
Around the Campuses. . . .
* Ventura's football team still hasn't scored this season, losing three games by a 106-0 margin. The Pirates had not been shut out since 1991, when Valley blanked them, 39-0.
* Driver Pedro DeLima continues to spark the Ventura water polo team, ranked No. 9 in the state. The Brazilian has 77 goals to rank among the top five scorers. Pirate goalie Paul Krueger leads in saves with 217.
* Moorpark tackle Jim Olquin, a sophomore from Crespi High, was selected co-defensive player of the week in the WSC after making nine tackles and recovering a fumble in a 20-7 victory over L.A. Southwest on Saturday. It was Olquin's first start with the Raiders.
* Pierce linebacker Kai Hampton, who had six tackles and seven assists in a 24-0 victory against Ventura, was the other defensive player of the week in the WSC. Hampton is a freshman from Littlerock High.
* Glendale running back Pathon Rucker was one of three players of the week in the WSC. Rucker rushed 29 times for 243 yards and one touchdown in a 28-20 loss to Santa Monica. He was selected along with Santa Monica quarterback Jorge Blanco and Compton wide receiver Darryl Nolan.
Staff writers Fernando Dominguez, Mike Hiserman and John Ortega contributed to this notebook.