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Sun Devils' Quarterback Turns It Around--With a Little Help

October 05, 1986|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

A week ago, Jeff Van Raaphorst's life in football went to the dogs, or wherever it is a bad Devil goes.

He threw five interceptions in Arizona State's 21-21 tie with Washington State. He completed 5 of 15 passes. He had a 41.7% completion rate through three games. Then he played receiver and caught the wrath of Coach John Cooper.

"If Jeff wants to throw the football," Cooper said a few days ago, "he'd better throw it a hell of a lot better than he's throwing it."

Saturday, that's just what Van Raaphorst did. In the Sun Devils' 16-9 win over UCLA at the Rose Bowl, he connected on 16 of 19 passes for 187 yards, including one of 11 yards to flanker Bruce Hill with 14:24 left that proved to be the game winner.

The change from one week to the next? It was all in the wrist. Or rather, on the wrist.

Right there, written on tape above his left hand along with a couple of offensive plays, was his own personal game plan--courtesy of a stranger.

"A fan named Jim Foster sent me a letter that I'm gonna save for my scrapbook," Van Raaphorst said. "It included a quote from Isiah that said, 'In quietness and confidence is my strength.'

"I wrote that on my wristband and wore it during practice, then wore it today."

So when the El Cajon native began warming up for the game at the Rose Bowl, where 20 or 30 friends would be watching, not to mention a regional television audience, he was quietly confident.

"He was very quiet and very--I don't know exactly what the word is--very business-oriented," Sun Devil quarterback coach Mike Martz said Saturday. "He came to work.

"It seems that he felt that since it (the Washington State game) was the league opener, he should be the one to guide the team. And maybe he was feeling as though he had to win it on his own, and that turned on him.

"Jeff has a tendency to be that way. Three years ago, when we had a real young team, we asked him to make a lot of the big plays. Now, he doesn't need to do it all because we have a real good football team around him."

The Sun Devil coaches did their part in practice to show confidence in their starting quarterback and even named him a team captain Monday. And Saturday, it all came together.

Four passes were for 15 yards or more, and he did the most damage to the UCLA secondary in the third quarter. That was when he completed 6 of 8 passes for 81 yards, including a 48-yarder to Hill, cutting across the middle, to set up the score early in the fourth.

At one point, he completed nine straight passes and just missed a 10th (and a touchdown) when tight end Jeff Gallimore narrowly failed to make a leaping, one-handed grab at the back of the end zone.

"He played a lot better today, and he'll continue to play like he did today," Cooper said. "He was calm, and that's the big difference. He played like a quarterback instead of a linebacker."

Not like a ballet dancer?

Van Raaphorst, after completing 56.1% of his passes last season for 2,200 yards, took some ballet classes in the off-season to improve his footwork.

Saturday, he got a chance to put some of that to use, utilizing his mobility in passing situations to roll out to buy some extra time before throwing.

"I really had some confidence that I could go out and play good," he said. "And that's just what I did."

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