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Arbuckle's Trail to UCLA Well Chronicled

September 17, 1987|TRACY DODDS | Times Staff Writer

Houston TV sportscaster Tim Melton chose Charles Arbuckle as the subject for his series on recruiting in the spring of 1986. It was a good choice.

Arbuckle, a 6-3, 235-pound tight end from Willowbrook High School in Houston was one of the top recruits in the country at that time, considered by most to be the No. 1 tight end prospect.

Certainly, he was one of the prizes in the state of Texas, where recruiting is a competitive sport in and of itself.

So folks in Houston were not too happy to turn on Channel 13 day after day and see Melton reporting visits to Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame and LSU. (He skipped his trip to Miami because his mother didn't like what she saw of the city on Miami Vice.) And folks were little appeased that he made one unofficial visit across town at Rice. (Rice is to the Southwest Conference what Stanford is to the Pacific 10 or Northwestern is to the Big Ten.)

In fact, there was quite a furor when the personable captain of the 10-0 team, the big guy with the 25 catches for 440 yards and 6 touchdowns, with the 6.8 rebounds a game, the .320 batting average, the 4.61-second 40-yard dash and the 3.5 grade-point average took his act to UCLA.

"I did take a lot of flak," Arbuckle said. "It was hard sometimes. I kept hearing about all the good schools in Texas. But I had my family behind me, and my family has a lot of love. They told me, if that's what you want to do, you have to do it."

Arbuckle was one of two first-year freshmen to letter last season for the Bruins. The other was linebacker Brian Jones from Lubbock, Tex.

But Arbuckle didn't start at tight end until last Saturday.

"That was pretty exciting to get my first start at Nebraska," he said. "I looked around at those 76,000 people, all wearing red. That was something. The most we ever played against in high school was 30,000 when we played in the (Astro)Dome.

"I loved it that every time we did something good, or every time I caught a pass, it would get real quiet."

Arbuckle quieted the place with catches six times for 92 yards.

Not a bad start for a player who turned 19 on Sunday.

Arbuckle shows signs of being the best tight end at UCLA since Tim Wrightman, who then went to the United States Football League and is now with the Chicago Bears. In the interim the Bruins have had Paul Bergmann, an outstanding college player who played in the USFL and the NFL before being released, and then Derek Tennell, who was drafted in the seventh round by Seattle last year. Tennell was released recently on the day of the final cuts.

Ed Kezirian, who coaches the Bruin tackles and tight ends, didn't want to get too carried away with praise for Arbuckle, who'll be making his second collegiate start Saturday against Fresno State at the Rose Bowl, but he did say that no one since Wrightman has shown this much this early in his career.

"He's a great athlete," Kezirian said. "He has the size--enough height so that he can add the necessary weight to do some things like a lineman, and not too big to be able to get down the field and play like a wide receiver. He has the size and the speed a tight end needs.He gives us a threat. . . . He's got a lot on the ball. We could see right away that he had been well-coached in high school."

Arbuckle was coached at Willowridge by John Pearce. But Pearce did not have his undivided attention. Arbuckle was one of those who had to choose a sport before he could choose a college.

"I like basketball, but I'm not tall enough to be a college forward and I'm just not a guard," Arbuckle said. "I like baseball a lot, but I wasn't sure about long-term in baseball, and I always set long-term goals as well as short-term goals for myself."

Arbuckle has a long-term goal to be a banker. If all goes well, he'll do that after his pro football career.

But he's more focused on short- term goals for the moment. He's still competing with senior Joe Pickert for the starting spot.

This week's game is foremost on his mind. "Week to week, the tight end gets to play some of the best athletes on the defensive side," Arbuckle said. "We may only catch a couple of passes, but on every play there's a little game going on between you and the guy on the other side of the line. If everybody plays all those individual games well, the team's going to be OK."

Against Nebraska he played some little individual games with defensive end Broderick Thomas, a junior standout from Houston Lincoln.

Kezirian reports that Arbuckle liked that one-on-one challenge. "That was a big game for him to start and a lot of pressure," Kezirian said.

Things are going well for Arbuckle now, but his freshman year had its rough moments.

"I will never forget how cold it was in Washington, in that game we tied (17-17) and I did not get off the bench once," Arbuckle said. "I think that was the worst. I sat there hating every minute of it and wondering why I was there.

"But my roommate, Reggie Moore (a flanker from Houston Madison who red-shirted last season) helped me remember my long-term goals. I knew it would get better."

And he can always call home to his mom, Imogene. Or his dad, Isaac. They were divorced when he was 11, but he has stayed in touch with his dad. "I was an only child, but with my dad being one of 10 children and my mom being one of 6, I have lots of aunts and uncles and lots of cousins," Arbuckle said.

Even though he is an only child, his mother didn't object when he decided to head for California.

"She wanted me to go where I would get a good education, and where I would feel comfortable," Arbuckle said. "I'm really glad I came here."

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