THE COLLEGES / JEFF FLETCHER : Scholarship Increase Key for CSUN to Land Locals


The Cal State Northridge football team is going to lose Saturday to a team with four starters who attended high school within 25 miles of North Campus Stadium.

As 24th-ranked Northern Arizona pounds an overmatched and outmanned Northridge team this weekend, Matador fans will be wondering why the local guys aren’t playing for them.

“To be honest, other schools were offering me scholarships,” said former Hart High lineman Eric Freund, a Lumberjack senior starter, “and [Northridge] couldn’t do that.”


That might change soon.

If Northridge is accepted early next month into the Big Sky Conference as expected, the school will have to commit to something approaching the 63-scholarship Division I-AA limit. The Matadors currently divide 20 scholarships among about 75 players.

With those extra scholarships, Coach Dave Baldwin is hoping players such as Freund will stay home instead of playing against the Matadors.

“If you give me 63 scholarships, we will challenge for the [Big Sky] championship, I guarantee it,” Baldwin said. “This area is a hotbed for football, and there are more kids who want to stay in California than want to leave. I think that gives us a shot [at quick improvement].”

That’s why Baldwin believes last week’s 52-0 loss to Idaho State and this week’s likely beating at Northern Arizona will be far from the norm once the Matadors are on equal financial footing with those Big Sky schools.


Consider the case of Dereck Williams, who is from Lake View Terrace and attended Crespi. Williams said this week he wanted to play college football close to home, and he probably would have signed with Northridge if the Matadors had a scholarship for him.

But the only school to offer him a scholarship was Northern Arizona, so he went to Flagstaff and has started since his freshman year. The senior defensive back also has been punishing Northridge since, recording two interceptions against the Matadors last year and eight tackles and a blocked punt in 1993.


Northern Arizona Coach Steve Axman also grabbed cornerback Rayna Stewart from Chatsworth High. Stewart, a senior, has become an All-Big Sky player and an honorable mention All-American.

Axman, who has 34 California players on his roster, is afraid of what might happen to his recruiting pipeline if Northridge joins the Big Sky.

“No doubt about it, the guy who is going to be in the catbird seat is Dave Baldwin,” he said.

Of course, that’s all theoretical.

Northridge is still a program with little tradition, a small following and below-average football facilities. Not to mention a campus where many of the classrooms look strangely like trailers.

In short, a scholarship might not be enough to lure some local players to Northridge.

“I just had never really heard of Northridge,” said Bill Sowders, who attended La Canada and is a three-year starter at offensive tackle for Northern Arizona. “It was always a commuter school when I lived in L.A. I wanted to come somewhere where there were a lot of students from a lot of different places.”

Said Freund: “I was looking for an experience to go out of state. It was something I had wanted to do since my junior year in high school.”


But Freund and Sowders don’t speak for every football player in Southern California. The Matadors should be able to find seven or eight Big Sky-caliber players each year who want to stay close to their families.

Those players will be the primary targets of Northridge’s recruiting efforts this fall. Matador assistants will scour Southern California, and particularly the San Fernando Valley. Baldwin said at least one of his coaches will visit every coach in the Valley.

Baldwin notices plenty of Valley players as he thumbs through Big Sky Conference media guides. It doesn’t bother him now, because he wasn’t recruiting for Northridge when they got away.

But he added: “It will disturb me if three years down the line we haven’t put a dent in the package.”