PITTSBURGH — Coach Rusty Dowling's Mission (Tex.) High School football team has a simplistic yet very radical offensive game plan in a state where most teams line up and try to run over each other.
Mission passes on first down, second down and third down. If there's a fourth down, Mission passes. So it's no wonder good things came to pass last fall for senior quarterback Lupe Rodriguez.
Rodriguez set a national record by throwing for 4,179 yards in a 1987 scholastic season that seemed like a throwback--no pun intended--to the pass-happy old American Football League.
"He was really dynamite," Dowling said of the 5-foot-11, 173-pound Rodriguez. "He was really cooking."
Of the nine national records established in 1987, seven were set by quarterbacks. Other new records included those for passing yards in a game, 562, by junior Perry Klein of Palisades and career yards, 9,194, by Todd Marinovich of Mission Viejo Capistrano Valley.
Rodriguez completed 262 of 445 attempts and threw for 50 touchdowns--or 44 more than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Mark Malone. His two top targets, Nati Valdez and Frank Hernandez, ranked 2-3 nationally in receiving with 104 and 98 catches, respectively.
It's no surprise the throw-away-the-playbook offense has caught on big with Mission rooters. More than 18,000 fans attended Mission's 54-7 Texas 5-A playoff victory over rival Harlingen in which Rodriguez completed 26 of 41 passes for 422 yards and six touchdowns.
"If we came out with two tight ends and a couple of running backs our fans would be up in arms," Dowling said. "They love our offense. We sell out every game. We've shown that if you have a lot of time and patience, you can establish the passing game on the high school level."
Dowling, a former assistant coach at Morningside College in Iowa, said the U.S.-Mexico border town's warm weather allows his players to practice their one-back, dropback offense 12 months a year.
"Throwing and catching is a skill you can do year 'round," Dowling said. "Most teams in Texas come out in a veer or an 'I' and two tight ends. . . . We show 'em something different. Nobody else does what we do."
And no other scholastic player has ever passed for more career yards than Marinovich, the so-called "Robo-quarterback" who has received national attention for his intense training program.
There's no allowance for Big Mac Attacks in a reigmen developed by Marinovich's father that includes running, throwing, weightlifting and maintaining a strict diet.
Marinovich has been groomed to play quarterback much like other child prodigies are painstakenly developed into classical pianists or figure skaters. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound lefthander "simply has no flaws," said Dick Enright, his coach at Capistrano Valley.
Considerably smaller than Marinovich in stature--but a giant when it comes to statistics--is 5-10, 160-pound quarterback Chris Meidt, who led Minneota to the Minnesota Class C title.
Meidt set national records with 1,009 career passing attempts, 642 completions and 101 touchdowns while throwing for 3,562 yards last fall.
As adept as Meidt was at completing passes, Baron Jackson of Southern Lab High School in Baton Rouge, La., was in picking them off. He had 11 interceptions last season to finish his career with a record 62, including 21 during a 1986 state title season.
"If it's around him, he'll catch it," said Southern Lab Coach Carl Porter. "If it's not around him, he'll still catch it. He has more interceptions than some wide receivers have receptions." The 6-2, 185-pound Jackson is being recruited by Nebraska, Pitt, UCLA, Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, LSU, Texas A&M--and, not surprisingly, Southern, since his high school is on Southern's campus.
The running game wasn't a a lost art in 1987, especially in Cuero, Tex., the home of Robert Strait. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior--certainly no straight-on runner--ran for a national-best 3,515 yards and scored 372 points, including 54 touchdowns.
Strait has 6,902 yards in three seasons but is well off the national record of 11,232 career yards set by another Texas back, Ken Hall--"The Sugar Land Express"--of Sugar Land High in 1950-53. Strait can become the No. 2 career rusher with 1,145 yards in 1988.
Strait is much closer to the national records for career points, 899, and touchdowns, 132. He has 741 points and 132 TDs in three years.
Other 1987 highlights, as compiled by Wheeling (W.Va.) sports writer Doug Huff, who publishes a national recruiting newsletter:
--The 6-2, 175-pound Klein set a national record by completing 46 of 49 passes for 562 yards and six touchdowns against Los Angeles Jordan, including a perfect 22-of-22 on short shovel passes. His 3,899 passing yards were the third-best season ever.
--Anthony Barbour set a national record with 47 rushing touchdowns while leading Garner High, 15-0, to the North Carolina championship.
--Hernandez led the nation with 1,757 yards and 27 touchdowns on his 98 receptions.
--Russell Cowsert of Dallas Christian kicked a 67-yard field goal, just one yard off the national mark.
--Chris Gardocki of Redan High in Decatur, Ga., kicked 13 field goals, including a 59-yarder, and finished his career with 33. He has committed to Clemson.
--Central Bucks West of Doylestown, Pa., ran its nation-leading winning streak to 43 games.
--Jerry Marks, a Pennsylvania wrestling champion from Southern Columbia High in Catawissa, ended with 7,066 career rushing yards and didn't gain fewer than 1,769 yards in a season.