He's a maniac, people who know Lane McCarthy said. And it seemed true, the way he threw himself around the Santa Ana Bowl last Saturday night, slamming into opponents. He played strong safety for the California State University, Long Beach, football team. He wore black high-top cleats and, beneath his No. 13 jersey, a black T-shirt decorated with a skull and crossbones. In one violent collision, he drove a Cal State Fullerton ball carrier five yards back and to the ground.
McCarthy is supposed to be a student -athlete, so the day before the Fullerton game he walked in his clogs to a criminology class he seemed particularly well suited for--"Violence and Revenge."
In knee-length shorts and a sweat shirt, he blended with the other students on the green CSULB campus, but he didn't perceive himself as one of them. He carried a notebook he had no desire to fill.
A fifth-year senior, McCarthy mainly studies how to be a good defensive back.
"I do just enough to get by," McCarthy said of his academic efforts. "If I didn't have to be eligible, I probably wouldn't go to class at all. I'll study an hour before a test--I have a good memory."
If his 2.01 grade-point average holds up, McCarthy expects to get a degree in criminal justice. "I don't want to waste five years and come out with nothing," he said. "That would be stupid when you're getting it for free."
Most of the 49er players, he estimated, devote 75% of their time to football and 25% to school, especially during the season. "It has to be that way if you're going to be any good."
Practice and football meetings consume McCarthy's afternoons and his energy.
"It's hard to get up to go to class," he said. "You want to get (more) sleep. I think it takes a lot to be a football player and a student; we should be treated differently. (People) don't know how much work we have to put in."
McCarthy arrived late for the 10 a.m. class. Because he had brought a reporter as a guest, Professor Barry Dank told him to leave, saying that was inappropriate.
"He probably doesn't read the sports pages anyway," McCarthy said of Dank. "I was doing great in there; he liked me. I always took the argumental side (in discussions)."
With 2 1/2 hours to kill before the day's first football meeting, McCarthy walked unrecognized through a campus that has never passionately embraced his sport. He categorized the students as "30,000 people who haven't seen me play football."
Along a sidewalk, 49er cheerleader Bessie Dominguez was introduced to McCarthy.
"Even the cheerleaders don't know who I am," he said.
The 49ers were losing to Fullerton, 17-6. McCarthy let a pass receiver get behind him to make a catch, then failed to tackle him five yards from the end zone. While McCarthy swore at himself, the touchdown was called back by a penalty. Moments later, Fullerton scored anyway, making it 24-6. McCarthy, knowing that his friends on the Fullerton team wouldn't let him forget this, sat alone on a trunk on the sidelines late in the second quarter.
McCarthy, 22, has played in every 49er game the last three seasons. In three games this season, he has 17 tackles. In a 30-7 victory over Weber State, he sacked the opposing quarterback three times on safety blitzes, celebrating each sack by waving his arms like Brian Bosworth, the flamboyant linebacker of the Seattle Seahawks.
"He's the defensive back version of The Boz," color commentator Jeff Severson told viewers of a cable telecast of the game. Severson, a former CSULB and pro defensive back, said of McCarthy: "He's got that look in his eye, the desire to make the big hit.
"He's a great kid."
McCarthy, 5 feet 11 and 185 pounds, talks a good game, too, infuriating opposing players and fans.
"Our scouting report said Kelly Widmeyer (Weber State's 6-foot-9, 300-pound tackle) was known as Wild Man," McCarthy said last Friday at the campus Wendy's restaurant, where he went for something to drink after being told to leave Dank's class. "I gave him a shot and said, 'C'mon, Wild Man.' "
Before "Maniac" stuck as his nickname, McCarthy was called "The Psycho."
"If you're not big, you've got to be crazy," explained McCarthy, who won a scholarship at CSULB after an all-CIF football career at Alemany High School in Mission Hills.
He thrives on intimidation: "If you get a wide receiver scared of you, he's not going to want to catch the ball."
Often, McCarthy said, he will help a player he has tackled get up. "I'll say, 'Let me help you up, man; you need all the help you can get.' I'm sure after the game players are reluctant to shake my hand."
McCarthy's wild behavior has not always been confined to the playing field. He said he got drunk at a fraternity party after a game last season, and "I guess I was trying to fight with everyone." He woke up in a cell.
"They gave me a jail shirt, and I wore it under my jersey the next six games," he said.
On leaving Wendy's, McCarthy discovered that he had lost his keys. He went back to the classroom, then to Dank's office.