Just Off the Cuff, O'Laughlin Not Ready to Play : College football: Coming off shoulder surgery, Cal State Northridge quarterback watches the start of spring practice.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge opened spring football drills Wednesday with starting quarterback J.J. O'Laughlin watching from the same vantage point he occupied at the close of last season--the sideline.

O'Laughlin, who was knocked out of an Oct. 30 game against Chico State, is rehabilitating from reconstructive surgery on his right shoulder in December. He has been stretching and lifting weights, but is not cleared to throw a football until Monday.

"It's coming along well, about as good as could be expected," O'Laughlin said.

"There was some major damage."

O'Laughlin's injury was diagnosed as a complete tear of the rotator cuff, plus ligament and cartilage damage. He has a scar which stretches from under his throwing arm to the top of his shoulder.

"It's a six-month process and I'm going on four," O'Laughlin said. "I'm a little bit ahead of schedule, but I want to be smart about it."

He will watch for the rest of this week, then try to resist the temptation to cut loose any long passes.

"I'll be tossing it for a while," O'Laughlin said. "I don't want to jeopardize my recovery by trying to throw a bomb or something. I'm just going to take it day by day."

O'Laughlin, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound transfer from Illinois, completed 99 of 214 passes for 1,181 yards and nine touchdowns with five interceptions before his injury.

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Coach Bob Burt welcomed 52 players for drills, but not before he asked many of them if they voted in student elections.

On the ballot was a referendum that would increase student fees to go to athletics.

"I told them, 'If you don't go vote, we might be out here practicing for nothing,' " Burt said.

Athletic Director Bob Hiegert is on record saying the Northridge football program is in jeopardy should the referendum fail.

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The Matadors thought they needed a punter because Albert Razo, a four-year starter, has completed his eligibility.

No problem. The man Razo took over for has resurfaced.

Darren McMahon last punted for Northridge in 1989, when he walked on to the team after hearing that Razo was ineligible.

McMahon performed adequately, but Northridge coaches informed him that Razo would be their punter as soon as he regained eligibility.

So McMahon, a former Granada Hills standout, left the team quietly.

Now he's back, taking advantage of a 10-semester rule used to determine the eligibility of Division II athletes.

Because Northridge was competing in Division II when McMahon started his college career, he is governed by that standard, rather than the Division I requirement that an athlete complete his eligibility in five years.

Under Division II rules, an athlete has eligibility for 10 semesters--which do not have to be consecutive--as a full-time student.

"Once I knew he was eligible, recruiting a punter was not a factor," Burt said. "Darren punted well for us. He wasn't Razo, but very few guys are."

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Northridge will conclude spring drills with an intrasquad scrimmage on May 6.

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