There's a football renaissance taking place at the University of Colorado in Boulder and the chief architects are from the San Gabriel Valley.
Colorado has six players from the San Gabriel Valley, about 1,000 miles from Boulder, and all have contributed mightily to the resurgence of the Buffaloes, who have come back from the depths of a 1-10 year to win five of their first six games this season.
Four of them--quarterback Mark Hatcher, halfback Ron Brown, wide receiver Jo Jo Collins and offensive guard Junior Ili--are starting in Colorado's new wishbone offense. The others are reserve halfback Cleo Bates and linebacker Miles Kusayanagi.
Hatcher and Brown are from Muir High in Pasadena, Collins from Pomona, Ili from Nogales in La Puente, Bates from Pasadena and Kusayanagi from Royal Oak in Covina.
Toss in Oliver Lucas, the Pomona High coach the last two years and now coach of the Colorado wide receivers, and there's a distinct San Gabriel Valley flavor to the Buffaloes, who play their biggest game of the season against No. 3-ranked Nebraska on Saturday in Lincoln.
Colorado Coach Bill McCartney, chief beneficiary of the talent pool, said it is a little unusual for an area as distant from Boulder as the San Gabriel Valley to provide his team with so many front-line players.
"All of these guys are playing and they've had a vital role in our success," McCartney said.
Hatcher the 'Trigger Man'
"When we were recruiting these guys, we told them if they came here they would play and be instrumental in our team's resurgence, and right now they're making us look like prophets."
It takes only a glance at the Colorado statistics to see just how much they have helped the Buffaloes.
The "trigger man," as McCartney likes to call him, in the dramatic turnaround of Colorado is Hatcher, a sophomore who starred at Muir two years ago. In the run-oriented wishbone, Hatcher is second on the team with 409 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns in 80 carries, and he has passed for 267 yards.
Brown, a senior, is third in rushing with 319 yards and 1 touchdown in 48 carries; Collins, a sophomore, has 2 receptions for 24 yards and leads in punt returns with 17 for 151 yards, and Ili, a senior, is a captain and one of the leaders of Colorado's offensive line.
Bates, a freshman, played for the first time last week against Iowa State and rushed for 23 yards in 6 carries, and senior Kusayanagi has played mostly on special teams.
It is Hatcher who has received the most credit in the turnaround of the Buffaloes.
A 6-0, 190-pounder who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds, Hatcher played sparingly last year as a freshman running back.
Hatcher, whose speed is suited for quarterback in an option-oriented offense, remembers his reaction when he learned that Colorado was switching to the wishbone last spring: "I jumped for joy."
It did not take long for him to win the starting quarterback position in spring practice. "He has really been our leader," Lucas said. "The wishbone is a tough offense to master, but his progress has been very gratifying. He's done everything for us."
McCartney said the 6-2, 265-pound Ili, who has started the last three years at guard, may be the biggest surprise of the San Gabriel Valley recruits.
"He was not a real heavily recruited player out of high school but he has really blossomed in the last three years," McCartney said.
How did the six players find their way to Boulder, nestled in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains about 35 miles from the state capital of Denver?
'A Refreshing Release'
It started with the arrival of Brown and Ili on campus in the fall of 1981.
McCartney said that after they arrived it was not as difficult to attract the other players. Kusayanagi transferred from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut in 1982, Hatcher and Collins arrived in 1984 and Bates came this season.
"I think Colorado is really a refreshing release for the San Gabriel Valley kids," McCartney said. "It's about 1,000 miles from California, it has an attractive setting and it's away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
"When a guy comes from a certain area and does well, it's a little easier to get the next guy (from the area). One good player can lead to another."
Fortunately for the Buffaloes, the 5-10, 190-pound Brown has received considerable playing time in three years with the team (he missed the 1982 season because of academic problems). Before Colorado switched to the wishbone after last season, Brown was one of the team's top receivers in 1983 and 1984.
Hatcher said the presence of Brown, who had graduated from Muir two years before him, was a big factor in his decision to attend Colorado.
"I knew he was going there and I knew him quite well," Hatcher said. "I think I also liked the surroundings around here (in Boulder), and I like the coaches and the people I met. So it seemed like a good place for me."