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Downs Descends From the Heights : Truth Is Out About Cal Lutheran Back's Size, but Defenses Still Must Find Him

September 09, 1987|GORDON MONSON | Times Staff Writer

Tracy Downs is the incredible shrinking halfback. Quickly, get a glimpse of him this season before he completely fades from existence.

Four years ago, during his senior year at Helix High in San Diego, Downs was listed on the roster at 5-foot-9. During his sophomore and junior seasons at Cal Lutheran, he apparently dropped to 5-7. The 1987 CLU roster lists him at 5-5. And he's enraged over this latest indignity.

It's unconscionable, a disgrace, a travesty.

But is it true?

"Yeah, I guess," Downs said disgustedly. "It's correct."

The incorrect listings were drummed up by coaches and sports information directors who believed that by measuring Downs' height while he was sitting on an offensive lineman's shoulders they could fake out the competition. In the macho gigantism of football, admitting that your halfback is shorter than most seventh-graders is a little demeaning.

The tall tale ended this preseason when Jim Buchheim, CLU's sports information director, officially let out the truth: "I just got tired of lying about it," he said.

No big thing, really, Downs said. "I use my size to my advantage. I have good upper-body strength. I don't have to worry about people getting under me, and sometimes they have trouble finding me--I get lost in the big men."

But in CLU's complex passing offense, sometimes even Downs' teammates can't find him. The quarterback, senior Tom Bonds, is himself a mere 5-9, 5-10 or 5-11, depending on whom you believe.

"It's not an easy situation," Coach Bob Shoup said. "He's a good receiver, but with a short quarterback, Tracy's not easy to find in a crowd."

Going into his senior season, Downs has managed to find his way to the 10th position among Cal Lutheran's career rushers with 945 yards on 283 carries. He led the Kingsmen in rushing and had 10 receptions last year, and he was second in yards gained the two previous years.

Lack of height notwithstanding, Downs is not small. He weighs 180 pounds, has lifted weights over the past nine years and can bench press 365 pounds. "His stocky constitution makes him a good pass blocker," Shoup said. Conversely, Downs is not a burner. His best time in the 40-yard dash is 4.7 seconds.

In the spring, Downs worked out with the track team to improve his speed. He says he accomplished his goal but subsequent times in the 40 do not support his claims.

"I feel faster," he said. "My running technique is improved. I think I'll be able to break off long runs this year and not get run down from behind."

In summary, Downs is a stocky, relatively slow, extremely short halfback who plays on a passing team whose quarterback has a difficult time locating him on pass routes. All of which brings up an obvious question: How has Downs become a three-year starter, let alone one of the Cal Lutheran's all-time best running backs?

"I have good quickness, good lateral movement," Downs said. "I have the ability to cut through the defense."

Shoup agrees, but he points to more cerebral qualities. "He's very poised, a good leader and he's very intelligent," he said.

Two years ago, Downs was one of four Californians and 105 Americans granted a scholarship by the Truman Foundation in Washington, D.C. The award--a four-year scholarship worth $28,000--is given to students based on academic performance, extracurricular activities, leadership, and potential for serving the public after schooling is finished. Downs, who hopes to be a doctor, is a pre-med major with a 3.5 grade-point average in biology. He also has served as president of CLU's black student union.

And he's smart enough to have figured out that with the right frame of mind he can more than get by--even on the football field.

"I've never fallen into the attitude that I'm too little to play," he said. "I look at the positive. I have the philosophy that no matter how big or small you are, you can play this game."

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