SAN DIEGO — When Matt Brock was a senior at University City High School and was trying to decide which college to attend on a football scholarship, he had what he considered the strangest thought.
Brock, the self-proclaimed beach worshiper, the player who had the unflattering distinction of leading the City Western League in technical fouls as a junior on the basketball team, decided he would enroll at Brigham Young in the heartland of Mormon influence.
"I had some crazy thought about changing my life around," said Brock, who also had considered attending Nevada Las Vegas. "Then I realized my personality wouldn't go with the BYU way of life."
Instead, he decided to attend Oregon, where he figured he could make an impact with a rebuilding program. He was right.
Brock, a junior, received All-Pacific 10 Conference honorable mention honors as a freshman defensive end in 1985 after being redshirted in '84. But, soon, those same bad habits that Brock thought he could break by attending BYU got the better of him. He flunked out of Oregon after spring practice in 1986, got out of shape and almost gave up football.
"I made some dumb mistakes," Brock said, "and it almost cost me my future."
Only recently has he recovered from his fall. He is back in school and back at starting defensive end. He will be one of the key players that San Diego State will try to stop when it plays at Oregon Saturday in a nonconference game.
In the Ducks' first two games, against Colorado (a 10-7 victory) and Ohio State (a 24-14 loss), Brock had 17 tackles (14 unassisted) and one sack. He also recovered a fumble and forced another. His play and the switch from a four-player front to three-player front are two of the main reasons the Ducks' defense appears much improved from the one that last season allowed an average of 30.7 points per game.
"The first two weeks, he has been all over the field," said Rich Brooks, the Oregon coach. "He is an active pass rusher. He is strong against the run. He has come up with a lot of big plays. He is off to a very good start, and this is going to be a great year for him."
Quite a turnaround for a player who almost ended his college career. Brock figures he is lucky to be playing at all after his troubles of 1986.
"I got a lot of publicity after my freshman year," Brock said in a telephone interview this week. "I kind of had the attitude that I didn't need to go to school. I can just party. I got in with the wrong people.
"I brought it all on myself. I knew what was going on. The football coaches would call for me. They were trying to find out what I was up to. I just didn't bother to show up around the office for a couple of weeks. I just got lost for a little while."
When Brock returned home to San Diego after spring practice in 1986, he acted as if nothing was wrong. He knew he was on the verge of flunking out of Oregon, but that wasn't going to keep him from his favorite haunt. He was at the beach, as was his style, when the bad news hit home.
"I got home from the beach, and my father was sitting on the couch," Brock said. "He had this look that something bad had happened. My mother looked like she was about to cry. My dad was so upset. It was really bad. It all came out."
Brock had been dismissed from Oregon. If he wanted to return, he would have to complete a series of summer school courses with a B average and then apply for readmission. Brock wasn't sure he wanted to try.
"My attitude was terrible," he said. "I figured they weren't going to let me back in anyway, so why bother."
But Brock's father, Clyde, would not let him quit. Clyde Brock is 6-feet 6-inches tall and played professional football for nine seasons, starting with the Dallas Cowboys in 1962. Brock said his father had an intimidating way of hounding him to study and stay out of trouble.
The pressure worked. Brock earned the necessary grades and was reinstated at Oregon shortly before last season. But while Brock was exercising his mind, he forgot about his body.
He started last season out of shape and on the bench. He missed the double sessions of preseason camp and reported at 275 pounds, 25 more than the preferred playing weight for his 6-5 frame. He did eventually start six of the team's final seven games, but his tackles for the season fell to 32 from 78 as a freshman.
"I didn't run; I didn't do anything over the summer," Brock said. "I just stretched and ate. I was really down in the dumps. I let myself down, my team down and my family down.
"I was close to quitting. But I couldn't. I love the game too much. I knew I could do a lot better. I just had to prove it to myself."
Brock said he began a period of personal reform. He became more serious about his studies, rededicated himself to football and did not go out drinking so much. He said he even is on schedule to graduate after his senior season with a degree in leisure studies, a form of park and recreation management.