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The Colleges : Pat Hegarty Helping Texas El Paso Turn Its Fortunes Around

December 23, 1988|STEVE KRESAL | Times Staff Writer

There were finals last week at the University of Texas at El Paso. It snowed. The football team practiced.

Apart, these three events don't mean a lot. Together, they make a couple of firsts for the El Paso football team and its quarterback, Pat Hegarty.

It was the first time Hegarty, who played at Tustin High School and Saddleback College, had practiced in the snow. He had the usual complaints. It was cold. The ball was wet and the ground was hard and slippery.

It was also the first time in 21 years the football team was still practicing so close to Christmas. Considering the team hadn't been to a bowl game since 1967, the players were used to having plenty of time to study for exams and get home for the holidays.

But no one was complaining about the extended football season. Heck, the town and college finally had a winning team to cheer for.

"It was odd practicing in the snow," Hegarty said. "I'm a Southern Californian all the way. It was really hard to get used to being so cold. I can't wait to get back."

Hegarty led El Paso to a 10-2 record this season and will end his collegiate career tonight against Southern Mississippi (9-2) in the Independence Bowl at Shreveport, La.

He ranked 21st in the nation in passing this season, completing 181 of 330 passes for 2,529 yards and 17 touchdowns.

"Pat isn't the greatest athlete; he's an adequate passer," said Dirk Koetter, El Paso's offensive coordinator. "What he does is make great decisions, and he's an outstanding competitor."

Hegarty went to El Paso with a solid football and academic background and has excelled at both in Texas. He is a prelaw major and has a grade-point average of 3.85 in his 1 1/2 years there.

He has received several honors this year, including being picked to the GTE Academic All-American team and being 1 of 11 winners of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame scholarships.

"It was great to get all the awards," Hegarty said. "My sister always told me that I would hate myself if I didn't try my hardest in college, and she was right. I'm just trying to do my best, and this year it has all come together."

Because of football and class work, Hegarty has developed an interesting study pattern. He goes home after practice, eats dinner around 7 p.m. then sleeps. He gets up at about 2 a.m., studies until 5, takes a nap then heads off to class.

"Some of my teammates think it's weird," Hegarty said. "But I'm just too tired after practice, and all I want to do is sleep. It's a lot quieter when I study that late anyway."

Hegarty enrolled at the Air Force Academy after graduating from Tustin in 1985. He was there "just long enough to get a haircut," Saddleback quarterback coach Bill Cunerty said. Hegarty decided the military wasn't right for him, headed back to Orange County and enrolled at Saddleback.

He sat behind Jason Schmid as Saddleback went 11-0 and won the J.C. Grid-Wire national championship along with Snow College of Utah in 1985.

Hegarty started for Saddleback in '86 and threw for 2,259 yards and 17 touchdowns, but the Gauchos finished the season 5-5 after forfeiting three games for using an ineligible player.

He then went to El Paso, which was in the middle of rebuilding the program under Coach Bob Stull, who is completing his third and final season at El Paso. He will be the coach at Missouri next season.

Hegarty won the starting job last fall and lead El Paso to a 7-2 start before suffering a broken jaw against BYU. El Paso led, 17-3, before Hegarty was hurt; with him out of the game, BYU came back to win, 37-24.

And though El Paso lost its final game to Wyoming to finish 7-4, Hegarty had helped the Miners to their first winning season in 16 years.

This season, Hegarty returned to El Paso a hero. He was on the cover of the media guide and there was talk of contending for the Western Athletic Conference title.

El Paso upset then-undefeated Hawaii, 42-25, Oct. 8 at Hawaii to improve to 5-1. Hegarty threw for 287 yards and 3 touchdowns in that game. He also recovered a teammate's fumble and ran it in for a touchdown.

"No one figured we could win on the island," Hegarty said. "It was my favorite game of the season. Everything just clicked."

The team and Hegarty kept clicking until a nationally televised game against Wyoming at Laramie on Nov. 5.

Wyoming, ranked 20th at the time, was 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the WAC; El Paso was 8-1, 3-1. The Miners had their chance to grab a share of first place in the conference and earn some national respect.

No such luck.

Wyoming routed El Paso, 51-6, and Hegarty was the focal point of an awesome pass rush that sacked him three times and forced him to hurry several passes. He was 7 of 25 for 66 yards, his worst day in college by far.

"It wasn't pretty," Hegarty said. "Once we got behind by two touchdowns they knew we had to throw, and they rushed the whole house at me. They seemed to be coming before I even looked up sometimes. It was a long day, and it wasn't a lot of fun."

El Paso won its final two games to finish 10-2, the most victories since the program began in 1914.

"This is what is all about. The whole town is behind us and it is really exciting around here. No matter what, I'm just glad we get one more game to prove what a good team we are."

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