When Cal State Fullerton decided to adopt the normal progress rule two years before the NCAA made it mandatory this season, it didn't exactly make headlines.
It did, however, effectively ruin one year of Darryl Titsworth's life.
In 1983, Titsworth was a starting guard on the Titan football team that won the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. championship and went to the California Bowl. Despite his 6-foot-1, 280-pound frame, he was listed as the "quick" guard (the side to which the Titans run most plays), aligned next to his best friend, All-PCAA tackle Daren Gilbert, who is now with the New Orleans Saints.
The Titan coaching staff--offensive line coach Larry Manfull, in particular--watched the game films with great anticipation for 1984. They had a game-breaker at quarterback (Damon Allen, now with Edmonton in the Canadian Football League), four big, fast receivers, and Gilbert and Titsworth opening holes so big Orson Welles would have a good year rushing.
But Titsworth, who Coach Gene Murphy started calling "the 300-pound sacrificial lamb," became the first victim of Fullerton's new academic standard. He completed all the necessary classes and units required under the normal progress rule, but fell slightly below the 2.0 grade point average requirement.
The fact that Titsworth would have been eligible at every other conference institution--with the possible exception of private University of the Pacific--had Murphy fuming. Titsworth, who felt he alone had messed up, isn't bitter, though.
"I'd blown a chance to play on a very good football team," he said. "Daren and I came here together as freshmen and planned on having a great senior year together. He did and went to the pros. I sat out. And it was my fault."
He may not have been bitter, but it was obvious he was hurting. The Titans won 10 in a row and finished 11-1, by far the most successful season in Fullerton history.
"Coach Murphy told me to stay in touch, but I didn't come around," Titsworth said. "I didn't feel part of the team because I wasn't playing and I didn't want to be just hanging around. Everyone knew why I couldn't play and I was embarrassed.
"And every game they won made me feel worse. I got very depressed and very out of shape, too."
Titsworth may have felt like no one even knew he was gone, but Manfull and Murphy, who says Titsworth "is one of those special players that coaches feel extra-close to," were thinking of him.
"We were very disappointed because we were expecting an all-conference performance from Darryl in '84," Manfull said. "But Darryl was the one who was really hurt. We hardly ever saw him.
"He didn't do what he had to do in the classroom and that's his fault, but it was a shame he missed it. I think it's going to weigh on his mind the rest of his life. Last year was a special experience."
Titsworth, a fifth-year senior, is trying desperately to put it all behind him. It admittedly was the worst year of his life and he'd like to forget it. But there were valuable lessons to be learned and Titsworth learned them the hard way.
"When you sit out a year, you get time to evaluate yourself and the mistakes you've made," he said. "I'm going to get my degree (in criminal justice) someday . . . that's for sure. And I came back to football hungrier than ever."
Murphy--who still believes that if the NCAA says you're eligible, you ought to be eligible--has begun to see some positive aspects, too.
"We're so inexperienced and have had so many people hurt this year, it's actually a blessing to have him back," Murphy said. "He's been our most consistent lineman by far.
"He showed up here this spring like a newborn colt. When you've played football all your life and you have all that time to yourself, all of sudden you realize how much you love the game and how much you miss it. So he came back more determined than ever and he's made fewer mental mistakes than anyone on the team."
Titsworth, who has battled to keep his weight down throughout his college career, showed up this year at 279, one pound under the reporting limit the Fullerton coaches had established.
Murphy, who says Titsworth said only four words as a freshman and those were, "Pass the hot dogs," was pleasantly surprised. Titsworth said it was mostly a mental thing. Mind over mouth, you might say.
"After the football season ended last year, I started feeling better and looking ahead to this year," Titsworth said. "I went on a fish and salad diet and ran a lot. I just worked really hard and came in right where I wanted to be."
The Titans may be 1-3 overall, but they are right where they want to be--in the PCAA race, anyway--with a 1-0 record.
"The offense hasn't really meshed yet, but we're playing better all the time and I think we've got a chance to win the conference," Titsworth said. "I missed a big opportunity last year and I want to make the most of this one."