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VALLEY PREVIEW : FOOTBALL '88 : THE COLLEGES : OCCIDENTAL : Development of Offensive Line Seen as Crucial

September 01, 1988|SAM FARMER

Occidental College has a bumper crop of wide bodies trying to fill gaps in the offensive line left by all-conference linemen James Gallegos, Morrison Warren, John Leslie and tight end Dave Henderson, who completed their eligibility last season.

But Coach Dale Widolff knows even big players can be paper tigers.

"There are a lot of potential guys there," Widolff said. "Guys who have good size and are good athletes. But they haven't done it in a college game yet, so we don't know."

He is certain, however, that good offensive line play is vital to the protection of quarterback Tony Werbelow, who must play well if Occidental is going to challenge for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship.

Werbelow, a senior, completed 21 of 32 passes as a reserve last season. Widolff still second-guesses himself for not giving Werbelow more playing time.

"Maybe we made a mistake and he should have been playing more. The kids respect him and we played a little bit better on offense when he was in there," said Widolff, whose teams have gone 43-15-2 and won or shared four SCIAC titles the past six years. "He's got a gun--a big-time arm."

For Werbelow to be effective, however, he needs to be upright. Tackle John Hurst (6-3, 240 pounds) and guard Roger Laubengayer (6-0, 230) are the only returning offensive lineman.

Prospects for the open positions include Todd Keithahn (6-4, 219), Sean O'Brien (6-0, 271), David Zuckerman (6-4, 219), Greg Garcia (6-2, 200) and Ken Kvale (6-3, 284).

At least Werbelow will not have to adjust to a new corps of receivers; he will be looking for the familiar faces of junior Rick Freeman and senior Jeff Bedell.

Freeman had a team-high 23 receptions for 329 yards last season. Bedell was second with 21 catches.

Occidental's defense, traditionally laden with 200-pound linemen and 180-pound linebackers, has beefed up in some areas. Pete Tucker (6-5, 235) and Dave Hodges (6-4, 210) head a group of linebackers which, except for the loss of All-SCIAC selection Richard Sprague, remains intact. The graduation of cornerback Todd Stoney, a four-time all-conference choice who recently was cut by the Los Angeles Raiders, leaves a hole that will be tough to fill. Stoney was the team's most valuable player as a senior after sharing the honor his junior year. Junior Ron Cunningham is expected to start at one corner position.

History indicates that winning the season opener--this season the Tigers play host to Azusa Pacific on Sept. 10.--is crucial for Occidental.

In 1986, Occidental began the season with a 28-14 loss to Menlo College and failed to qualify for the playoffs, and in last year's opener the Tigers tied the University of San Diego and again failed to make the playoffs.

"It planted a little seed of doubt in the kids' minds that they weren't used to having," Widolff said. "Last season we were 1-2-1 at one point."

Occidental (6-2-1, 5-1-0 in SCIAC) finished strongly to tie Claremont-Mudd for the SCIAC championship but its poor start cost the Tigers a Division III playoff berth.

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