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NOTEBOOK / Alan Drooz : Former Australian Rugby Star Predicts a Big Future for Football Down Under

August 13, 1987|Alan Drooz

Randall Trudgeon's passage through the South Bay and neighboring locales caused little flurry last week, but it may have been the first step in what he predicts will be a serious international challenge to American supremacy in football.

Trudgeon, an Australian who was a rugby star there and, briefly, a kicker for the Los Angeles Rams, was in the Southland to meet with former Rams Coach Ray Malavasi and Cal State Dominguez Hills athletic department staffer John Johnson. The two Americans will travel to Australia in the fall to coach an All-Australia football team that will embark on an American tour before playing a series of games in Europe.

Trudgeon, who is so enthusiastic about the success of football in Australia that he is pushing for a World Cup tournament in the near future, said, "It's enormously historic. It's the start of something. The invasion has started. No longer is American football safe from international raiders."

And the NFL thought the only Raiders it had to worry about wore black and silver.

Trudgeon, a burly, ruddy-faced, 6-foot-2, 215-pound 30-year-old, is commissioner and prime mover of the Australian American Football League Property Ltd. He also plays running back on the squad. His 60-man team, put together on a whirlwind three-week, 17,000-kilometer trek around Australia, was culled from about 500 applicants.

The Aussie team, Trudgeon said, is amateur only in football experience. It includes some of the nation's top athletes, drawn from rugby, Australian-rules football and other sports. "A lot of them are high-profile athletes from other leagues. It's very much an Australian all-star outfit," Trudgeon said.

"There are two world-ranked power-lifters on the line. We've got the basic skills. What we need to perfect is technique. That's why we've sought the assistance of John and Ray. Given that, I think we'll be in good shape."

Trudgeon said American football is played in 16 other countries, including much of Europe. "I can see us jumping into the top six or eight in a few years," he said. "Basketball is doing exceptional in Australia and we want to do the same for football--bring in a few players from the U. S. to bring up the level while we develop our own."

Trudgeon said football--called gridiron in Australia to differentiate it from rugby and soccer, which are called football in various parts of the world--has appeal in Australia because of that nation's love for contact sports.

"I don't think it's a question of if, it's when. We love football. To us a body contact sport is a natural," he said. "We love to hit, get hit, we love the physical aspect of sport. The hitting, the tackling, we love it. Hit us all day."

After training with Malavasi, who now is in private business, and Johnson, one of the founders of the Hula Bowl and author of "How to Watch Football," the Australian team will come to Los Angeles in October to watch the Rams and Raiders, then will continue to Dallas to see the Cowboys practice. They'll go on to play games in London, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, The Netherlands and West Germany.

Trudgeon, who started the Australian League in 1984, said Australia has always followed in the path of the U. S. "It's only natural we'd follow in your footsteps" athletically, he said. "It took us 157 years to win an America's Cup. Who knows, in another 157 years, look out Super Bowl."

Five South Bay football players are listed in Street and Smith's Football Yearbook list of top high school seniors. Option quarterback Darian Hagan of Locke is ranked among the nation's top 50 players. The 5-10, 185-pound Hagan, who may be shifted to running back in college, is listed as one of four "utility backs."

Four other South Bay players are listed among "seniors to watch": wide receiver Brian Treggs and linebacker Arnold Ale of Carson and tight end Titus Tuiasosopo and lineman Mike Alexander of Banning. Also listed is running back Willie Crawford of Beverly Hills.

The scouts obviously feel Southern California is deep at quarterback. Two of the four listed in the top 50 are Bret Johnson from El Toro and Todd Marinovich of Capistrano Valley. The only other Californian listed in the top 50 is Rancho Cordova defensive back Arnold Laws.

UCLA running back Gaston Green is the favorite cover boy on preseason football magazines hitting Southland newsstands. The former Gardena High star, considered a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy, is pictured on the regional covers of nearly every major magazine, including Street and Smith's, the Sporting News Football Yearbook and Sport Magazine Football Preview.

UCLA, which wouldn't mind winning another Heisman (Gary Beban won it in 1967 but USC backs have won four since 1965), is doing its part to play up the speedy senior, putting his picture on pocket schedules and sending posters of him to season ticket holders and group sales applicants.

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