No one could have predicted that Jon Finstuen would be exchanging his Occidental College textbooks for a Los Angeles Rams playbook this summer--least of all, Jon Finstuen.
The 5-foot-10, 21-year-old wide receiver, formerly of Millikan High School, is slow by pro football standards. He played in an NCAA Division III program. Only two players in Occidental's 90-year football history ever played in the National Football League--Gene Moore, a halfback with the 1969 San Francisco 49ers, and Jack Kemp, who quarterbacked the Steelers, Chargers and Bills.
But timing is everything. Finstuen had the good sense to play the best game of his college career on Nov. 19, 1983, against Wisconsin-Lacrosse in the Division III playoffs.
Finstuen's eight receptions for 209 yards and touchdown catches of 58 and 67 yards impressed Frank Trump, a scout for the Rams who had attended the game to observe another player.
"All I noticed was this little guy making catch after catch; big catches, going over the middle," Trump said of Finstuen. "I just made a note to keep track of him."
Seventeen months later, Finstuen was completing his undergraduate degree in geophysics. He thought football was a part of his past, or so he thought. He already was into his third season with the Occidental rugby team.
He received a phone call shortly thereafter from Trump, inviting him to Rams Park, the team's Anaheim training facility.
"I was shocked and surprised," Finstuen said.
Still battered and bruised from five rugby games the previous weekend, Finstuen showed up ready to catch whatever Jeff Kemp and Dieter Brock threw at him. Receivers coach Lou Erber invited Finstuen back the following Tuesday for the start of the team's mini-camp.
Finstuen found himself lining up to catch passes with Drew Hill, Ron Brown, Henry Ellard and Otis Grant. Taking turns facing him on his one-on-one patterns were defensive backs Gary Green, LeRoy Irvin and Johnnie Johnson.
"The first time I got out there I was against Johnnie Johnson," he said. "That was exciting. It got my blood flowing. I looked inside and I see Jeff Kemp standing there (over center) and I said, 'Wow. Here I am.' I was in the middle of all these people I've only read about and seen on TV and I started getting nervous."
He wondered for a moment what a Division III football player was doing among all those stars, but Coach John Robinson reassured him.
"I was worried because I'd been running patterns against Division III defenses," Finstuen said. "I went to John Robinson and said, 'Well I'm just a Division III football player.' He said, 'Don't put yourself down. There are a lot of good Division III football players out there.' "
On the last day of camp, Coach John Robinson approached Finstuen with good news.
"He said he didn't think I was going to be drafted, but they'd like to sign me to a contract. I almost fell apart," said Finstuen.
"He said, 'We're really impressed with you and some of your innate skills. You have good ballance, good quickness, you're very competitive and we like your intelligence, too.' I asked him what my chances are and he said, 'Well, you have a good chance. It's not a great chance. It's going to be tough.' And he kept on asking me, 'Are you tough?' "
After a little haggling with the Rams about the signing bonus, Robinson offered him $5,000 after an original offer of $1,000. Finstuen's contract is for one year, plus an option year. His salary, providing that he makes the team, will be $60,000, which is $10,000 more than the NFL minimum. There is a $7,500 bonus if he plays in the Rams' Sept. 8 regular season opener against the Denver Broncos at Anaheim Stadium.
Finstuen will report to Rams Park on July 15 with the rest of the rookies and young veterans to begin training camp before the rest of the squad joins them the following week at Cal State Fullerton.