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A Spartan Life Style : Ken Lutz Gave Up Carousing in College to Uphold Tradition at San Jose State as One of Nation's Top-Ranked Passers

September 29, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

SAN JOSE — It is Ken Lutz's job to make quick decisions. His ability to make the right choice on a given play is the reason he became the starting quarterback at San Jose State.

But the most important decision he made came off the field.

A year ago he asked himself: "Was I going to be a college quarterback or a college partier?"

At the time, he was better qualified to be the latter.

Lutz had been a leader on winning football teams wherever he played, first at Royal High, then at Moorpark College. He was a little small for a quarterback--6 feet, 177 pounds--but he was gifted with a strong arm and a sixth sense that allowed him to elude defenders he never saw.

But because he was sitting behind All-American quarterback Mike Perez, he didn't get many opportunities to display those skills. So Lutz did most of his celebrating away from the football field.

Lutz says his first two years at San Jose were full of late-night parties and barhopping.

"The college atmosphere is a party atmosphere. You go to school and then at night it's fraternity parties and going to bars and having a good old time," Lutz said. "I hadn't experienced that. Simi Valley is a pretty small town compared to here. You come here and it's wide open. You think, 'This is great.' "

And it was, until Lutz saw his grades and his athletic skills slip.

"I had problems on the field because I couldn't compete well enough because my body wasn't at 100%," Lutz said. "And I got myself in academic trouble because I wasn't going to class because I was waking up with hangovers.

"Finally, I reached a point in my life where I said, 'Hey, man, you're either going to be a starter and graduate, or just stay in this rut and be a nobody.' So I decided to hit the emergency brake, turn it around and head down the right road again."

That road started in the San Jose weight room. Where and when it will end is difficult to tell.

Lutz has not only taken over for Perez, who has exhausted his eligibility, but he is threatening to make people forget him as well.

In four games, he has completed 88 of 133 passes (66.3%) for 1,114 yards and 5 touchdowns. His per-game average of 283.5 yards in total offense is sixth best in the nation.

But he has proven he can be an adept leader as well as an accurate passer. With San Jose State trailing 16th-ranked Washington, 28-0, in the second quarter last Saturday in Seattle, Lutz rallied the Spartans to a 31-28 lead with 4:08 to play. Washington ended up winning on a touchdown run by Tony Covington, but Lutz's effort was not lost on San Jose State Coach Claude Gilbert, who lauded his quarterback's "courageous performance."

Lutz was so sore the week before that he had not practiced in pads. He had been sacked a total of 14 times in losses to Hawaii and Oregon State in the previous two games.

But that did not hamper his performance. Against Oregon State, Lutz completed 35 of 43 passes for 421 yards and 2 touchdowns, the seventh-highest yardage total in San Jose State history.

The loss to Washington dropped the Spartans to 1-3, and, considering that Cal and Stanford are next on the schedule, that could get worse. San Jose was 10-2 and the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. (now the Big West Conference) champion in 1987. The Spartans also led the nation in passing for the second year in a row. But if they don't match that this season, don't blame the quarterback: San Jose State has only two offensive starters back.

"Kenny can do all the things Perez did for us if we can provide him with the same supporting cast," Gilbert said. "We're learning, going through the rookie stages with our offense. Until we gain some experience and know-how, he's going to have to do a lot of it on his own. And he has."

But if Lutz, forever feisty and confident, is burdened by the challenge, he masks it well. Perhaps that is because he is having fun despite the team's slow start.

"When I came out of Royal I wasn't looking for an offense where I could lead the nation. I just wanted to play Division I football," Lutz said. "Now I realize I'm in an offense that has a chance to lead the nation. We have a great coach and a great system. If you do things right within that system you can make yourself known. That's what I plan on doing."

As a high school senior, Lutz had a Division I scholarship offer from Brigham Young, but it was as a punter. So he went to Moorpark and became the school's first freshman starter at quarterback.

The Raiders were 6-5 that season, but in Lutz's sophomore year Moorpark was 8-2 and won the Western State Conference championship.

Surely, he thought, the offers would roll in. At first, it was more like a trickle. Only Washburn College of Kansas, an NAIA school, was interested.

"I was going there, I had my bags packed," Lutz said. But a couple of weeks before he was going to leave, San Jose called.

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