YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Gridders and Grades : Most High School Football Players Can't Even Get Into Occidental, the Coach Says, but the Tigers Find Academics No Barrier to Success on the Field

November 07, 1985|DAVID MORGAN

By the numbers, the Occidental College football team has it all.

- 6-1 overall record.

- 4-0 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Assn. play that has the Tigers in position for their second straight championship.

- 24 wins in its last 25 games.

Numbers that any college team would be proud to call its own. But numbers that don't make Occidental football easier to sell in recruiting.

A football factory this is not. Division III is a long way from the big time.

"An athlete is treated no different than a regular student here," said Occidental Coach Dale Widolff.

There are no athletic scholarships offered. And academics are high in priority--and cost.

Most Needn't Apply

"The majority of high school football players can't even get into Oxy," Widolff said. "Maybe two or three players from the average high school football team can get in and help our football team, and that's a pretty small group to draw from.

"But we feel that if we provide enough information about the school to the student-athlete that we have a chance to win them over, because we offer a quality education, and now, a quality athletic program."

For a price. Tuition, room and board costs at Occidental are estimated at $13,166 a year. Certainly it is no haven for free-loading football players.

Despite the recent success of his team, Widolff does not confuse the clear-cut priority system at Occidental.

When it comes to academics versus athletics, Widolff is no more than second-best--and proud of it.

Classes Come First

"One thing about our kids is that they don't cut class to go to practice," said Widolff, in his fourth season as the Tigers' coach. "That's an unheard of thing around here.

"They know why they're here."

The theory that Occidental's football players are students first also holds up in practice. Widolff routinely schedules team workouts after the completion of afternoon classes and labs.

Practices that begin at 6 p.m. are commonplace. Better late than never.

"It doesn't do you much good to practice if half of your team is in class," Widolff said. "I'd rather have the people in class and go late at night. It's helped us to have better practices."

Linebacker Convinced

The combination of sound academics and quality athletics was enough to convince freshman linebacker Brad Arnold.

A standout at University High in Irvine, Arnold was set to accept a scholarship to Cal State Long Beach--a Division I school.

"I was ready to jump at the chance to sign," Arnold said. "I didn't want to hassle with recruiting anymore."

Almost as an afterthought, Arnold decided to take a look at Occidental. He never looked back.

"My attitude when I visited the campus was very pessimistic," Arnold said. "I came in with a bad picture and ended up loving it."

A Bench-Warmer Now

Instead of being a scholarship athlete on a major college team, Arnold sits on the bench on a Division III team. He doesn't regret his decision.

"It's a different kind of perspective on football for me," Arnold said. "I'm on the sidelines here, and I've always played. But it's still exciting."

And tiring. Arnold is on the football field as late as 9:30 p.m. sometimes and then has his homework waiting in his dorm room.

"I come out of practice late and don't want to get down to homework," he said. "But then I say, 'Hey, why am I here?'

Goal Is Education

"It's not because I want to play football. It's because I want an education."

The bookworm approach may reign supreme at Occidental, but the football team holds its own.

And then some.

The Tigers' only loss since 1983 was to Azusa Pacific--a Division II school--by a 31-14 score in the third week of the season.

Other than that, the resurrection of the Occidental program under Widolff has held firm. Widolff accepts little of the credit for his successful program.

Have Good Players

"We have real good players," he said. "That's why we win, not because of anything else.

"We have real motivated kids who are ready to go. You don't have to kick-start them."

Instead, the Tigers draw their motivation from experience. Twelve starters are seniors and the top two reserves are also in their final year of eligibility.

Both starting running backs are in their fourth year as starters.

Vance Mueller is the team's leading rusher (582 yards and 8 touchdowns on 122 carries) and receiver (21 receptions for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns) and is getting a look from pro scouts.

Heavily Scouted

"We've probably had at least 15 scouts out here looking at him," Widolff said.

But seeing him isn't always easy. Occidental has outscored its opponents 182-99 this season, meaning the majority of the starters rarely play an entire game.

Mueller's backfield partner is Jeff Goldstein, who has rushed 90 times for 475 yards and a touchdown. As a receiver, Goldstein has added 6 receptions for 74 yards and 3 scores.

At the controls, junior college (West Los Angeles) transfer Pat Guthrie has completed 85 of 164 passes for 1,156 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Together, the trio has produced the bulk of Occidental's 2,472 yards in total offense.

Strong Defense

Backed up by a defense that has allowed negative yardage rushing in its last two games (a 43-0 win over Pomona-Pitzer last week and a 20-7 victory over Whittier), the Tigers have all but wrapped up their second consecutive conference title.

Widolff isn't looking ahead just yet.

"We play our final games on the road," he said. "And having a winning reputation is a two-edged sword. It gets the other teams jacked up to play you.

"But it is also a confidence thing. Our players are used to winning, and they expect to win now."

And, just like in math class, the wins keep adding up.

Los Angeles Times Articles