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VALLEY PREVIEW : FOOTBALL '88 : CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE : Sense of Urgency Replaces Complacency For Matadors

September 01, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

I do not care if he bench presses small pickups. I do not care if outruns large pickups. I do not care if he can break a face mask with his bare hands, said Bob Burt, football coach at Cal State Northridge.

Just one question: Can he help us beat Portland State?

Northridge recruiters have been faced with that question ever since the boss looked up at the end of the 1987 football season and saw that Portland State was the only thing separating CSUN from a Western Football Conference championship.

Portland State begins this season as the No. 2-ranked team in Division II, which is exactly where it finished last season, losing to Troy State, 31-17, in the title game.

The Vikings, with 16 returning starters, are a heavy favorite to repeat as champions of the WFC.

"They should be the choice with all the people they have back," Burt said, "but you still have to play the games."

That platititude is listed in the Top 10 among coaching cliches, but it is something that often has been heard around the Northridge training camp.

Last season, Burt says, players and coaches were sometimes guilty of forgetting that games are not won with a pencil and paper.

"You can't go into a season saying, 'We probably won't win this one, but we should win this one.' " Burt said. "It doesn't work that way. I'm sure two years ago some people looked at their schedules and said, 'Well, Northridge, we'll beat them . . . ' "

If they had, using CSUN's 4-7 record from the 1985 season as a gauge, they were probably wrong. Northridge went 8-3 in Burt's first season as coach, then won seven of 11 games last season when better was expected.

"We might have been a little less demanding than we should have been, maybe not quite as hungry as a football team, expecting too much because we had everybody back," Burt said of last season. "Things might have come too easy the first year. We had some success and maybe we figured we'd improve even more just by hanging around together for another season."

There cannot be the same temptation this season simply because most everyone is not back.

When Northridge opens its season against visiting Cal State Hayward at 7 Saturday night at North Campus Stadium, more than 30 new players will be in uniform.

The changes are most apparent on defense, where only two starters return. This might be considered bad news except CSUN ranked next to last among WFC teams in defense last season.

"It's a little strange," said Reggie Williams, a two-year starter at cornerback. "Last year when I got in a sticky situation I could look around, maybe to the other corner, Kip Dukes, and he could give me some support. Now when I look around, everyone's looking at me."

Tackles Anthony Birts and Mike Meehan will have to play major roles if the defense hopes to improve. The 6-foot, 5-inch Birts was a backup last season but has gained a significant amount of muscle during the off-season and tips the scales at 262 pounds. Meehan (6-5, 255) is a double transfer from Southwestern College near San Diego and the University of Cincinnati.

On offense, the Matadors have one of the WFC's top threats running behind what would appear to be an improved offensive line.

Tailback Albert Fann, a 6-2 1/2, 223-pound sophomore, gained 822 yards in 10 games and was first-team all-conference last season. He also was the nation's top kickoff returner.

Anchoring the line is center Dean Allman, a returning starter. The guards will be Greg Little, a 6-4, 265-pound former JC All-American from Glendale, and Barry Voorhees, a 6-5, 280-pound converted defensive tackle from Santa Barbara.

Jim Matthews (6-4, 275) and Scott Kain (6-5, 270) are the tackles. Average size on the line: 6-3 1/2, 266 pounds.

Next to these guys senior quarterback Rob Huffman, who dropped from 221 pounds to 204 over the summer, looks positively svelte.

"I feel a lot better than I did last year at this time," said Huffman, a JC All-American at Glendale in 1986. "I feel a lot faster and a lot more diversified. I feel I can run a little more, throw on the run more and read defenses better."

Huffman, who completed 102 of 212 passes for 1,341 yards last season, will split time with sophomore Sherdrick Bonner early in the season. Huffman is confident, however, that he will play the lead solo when the conference season begins Oct. 1 against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

"I feel confident that I'm the one who can lead this team to a conference championship," Huffman said.

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