LONG BEACH — Opening what could be its last football season, California State University, Long Beach, will play Montana State at 1 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.
A $300,000 fund-raising drive last December enabled football to continue, but President Stephen Horn said then that another $500,000 in community donations must be raised by June 30, 1988, to pay for scholarships or the sport will be dropped. Of that amount, $140,000 was in hand or had been pledged through Tuesday, said Donna Cole, assistant athletic director for fund development.
Fewer donations would be required if there were to be a dramatic increase in gate receipts, although that seems unlikely. The 49ers have doubled their season ticket sales over last season, but still have sold only about 800, according to ticket manager Paul Stalma.
Approaching Season Positively
Stalma, who said that about 1,000 student all-events passes have been sold, expects a crowd of about 5,000 at Saturday's game. Over the last three seasons, the 49ers have averaged only 7,844 fans per game, lowest among Division 1-A universities.
But new Coach Larry Reisbig and his players are eagerly approaching the season as if no doom is impending.
"We're keeping that out of our minds," quarterback Jeff Graham said after passing for 170 yards in an intrasquad scrimmage on the campus field last Saturday. "We have a real positive thing going on. I think people will be eager to come out and watch us play."
But Graham, a junior, becomes bitter when he thinks that he may not have a senior season here.
"Maybe if Horn came out to watch our games, he'd change his mind," Graham said. "If he knows the way to the stadium."
Claims Superlative Attendance
Horn knows the way, all right. Last December he said: "I doubt if any president in America has attended more football and basketball games than I have."
Reisbig, a 49er assistant the last two seasons, coached at high schools and junior colleges for 24 years, but will be making his debut as a Division 1 college head coach on Saturday.
He replaced Mike Sheppard, who left after last season to become coach at the University of New Mexico after compiling a three-year, 16-18 record.
"The first game (always) gives me goose bumps," Reisbig said. "No matter where you are, you're full of anticipation, you don't know what to expect, you're nervous. I'm very excited."
There also is excitement about playing in front of a crowd of more than 100,000 at the University of Michigan on Sept. 26. That will be the first time the 49ers have played a Big Ten team.
But because the 49ers have not won an opening game since 1983, attention is currently focused only on Montana State. "We've been slow starters here," Graham said. "We've got to overcome that."
Last year the 49ers, 6-5 overall, finished third in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. with a 4-3 record. They have been picked to finish fourth by league coaches and seventh by media members.
Reisbig said he has been impressed during practices by his team's hard work, which he demands from his outlook post high atop a scaffold.
"Everybody, let's start running on and off the field," he ordered through a megaphone last week. During one drill, he boomed to an assistant, "Coach, (No.) 23 gave up on that play."
Under Sheppard, the 49ers were almost exclusively a passing team, sometimes throwing 50 times a game. Despite the presence of Graham, who passed for 2,921 yards and 20 touchdowns last year, Reisbig wants balance in the attack.
That means junior backs Michael Roberts, Ricco Wilson and Brian Browning will run more. Roberts averaged 4.8 yards a carry last year and caught 16 passes for two touchdowns. Wilson ran only five times a game as Mark Templeton's backup at fullback. Browning averaged 2.8 yards a carry last season, off from his freshman average of 4.1. Another running threat will be Lafayette Shelton, who was red-shirted last season.
With other teams now having to think about the possibility of the 49ers running, Graham expects his passing will be more effective. Gone are Templeton, the NCAA's all-time pass-catching leader, and Charles Lockett, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but Graham still has talented wide receivers in senior Tyrone McCullouch and sophomore Derek Washington.
Confident of His Receiver
"If he goes up with a cornerback, he'll come down with the ball," Reisbig said of Washington. Roberts, Wilson and Browning have the speed to turn short passes into long gains.
A new Graham target will be tight end Brian Wiss, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore who has been impressive in practice. Wiss replaces four-year starter Greg Locy.
All these potential offensive fireworks, however, could fizzle because of an inexperienced line--only center Mike Hollingshaus started last year. The guards will be junior college transfers Derrick Jinks and Phil Wright. The tackles are Sonny Pau, a 300-pounder from Golden West College, and David McKinnon, a 6-5, 280-pound sophomore who saw limited playing time last year.