Was passing just a fancy in the Western Football Conference?
It appears so.
Gone are the days when quarterbacks such as Cal Lutheran's Tom Bonds, Portland State's Terry Summerfield, Santa Clara's Greg Calcagno and Cal State Northridge's Chris Parker filled the sky with high-arcing spirals.
This, as it was last season, is the year of the running back.
Of the WFC's six teams, only Cal State Sacramento does not return its top rusher. The Hornets aren't exactly hurting in the backfield, though. Coach Bob Mattos feels fullback Ed Bueno is the best in the conference at his position and at tailback, Sacramento has Steve Buccellato and Donald Hines, a pair of rushers Mattos compares favorably with Don Hair, a former Hornet All-American.
Topping the list of returning rushers is Curtis Delgardo of Portland State, the conference's offensive player of the year. Delgardo has shattered the school single-season rushing record in each of the past two seasons.
Delgardo accounted for 2,706 yards and 20 touchdowns in helping Portland State to the NCAA Division II championship game last season. He rushed for 1,493 yards on 257 carries, caught 52 passes for 626 yards and added 587 more yards on kickoff and punt returns.
Only 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, Delgardo is considered by coaches to be the most dominant player in the conference.
"The thing about Curtis," Portland Coach Pokey Allen said, "is that he thinks he's 6-2 . . . . and we haven't told him he's not."
Like Delgardo, Santa Clara's Paul Marcy and Southern Utah State's Kelvin Minefee also set school rushing records last season. Marcy, a 6-0, 210-pound senior, finished with 1,065 rushing yards, becoming the first Bronco player since 1962 to top 1,000 yards.
Southern Utah, led by Minefee--who gained 1,190 yards last season--should have one of the most explosive ground attacks in Division II. Joining the 5-10, 200-pound senior in the Thunderbird backfield will be Thane Marshall, the WFC rushing champion in 1987, and Kyle Wilson, a first-team all-conference selection in 1986. All three have gained more than 1,000 yards in a season.
Albert Fann of Northridge joined Marcy and Minefee in the first-team all-conference backfield last fall. Fann, a 6-2, 215-pound junior, has rushed for 1,795 yards and 20 touchdowns in 21 games.
At Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, seniors Todd Henderson and Cornell Williams didn't earn postseason recognition, but they combined for 881 rushing yards in 1988.
While the majority of ballcarriers will be familiar, the quarterbacks will not. Southern Utah, which uses a veer offense, might be the only conference team without a new player under center. Brad Matthews and Rick Carter will again be doing the handing off for the Thunderbirds.
Santa Clara has John St. Jacques, who passed for 1,492 yards and 17 touchdowns last season as a redshirt freshman, but he is being challenged by Craig Bergman, a 6-6 junior transfer from Arizona, who was the 12th man on the Wildcat basketball team in 1987-88.
At San Luis Obispo, Keith Jarrett, who passed for 528 yards as a part-time starter, is being pushed by David Lafferty, a 6-5, 210-pound redshirt sophomore. Sacramento also has an experienced quarterback in Drew Wyant, but he is locked in a three-way battle for the job.
Northridge will definitely have a new quarterback, but Matador Coach Bob Burt is a step ahead of other conference coaches in that he has already decided on a starter. Burt will go with be Sherdrick Bonner, a 6-4, 185-pound junior who has completed 43 of 77 passes for 584 yards and five touchdowns in two seasons as a reserve.
Portland State, the WFC's two-time defending champion, has two junior college transfers locked in a duel to replace All-American Chris Crawford.
Don Bailey from Wenatchee (Wash.) Valley JC held the edge during spring practice, but Darren Del Andre, from Calabasas High and Marin College, stole the show during the spring game. Del Andre set a national JC record with 406 completions during his two seasons at Marin. The pair combined for more than 8,000 passing yards last season.
Defensively, lineman Dan Squires from Santa Clara and linebackers Derek Stigerts of Sacramento and Scott Taube of Portland State are considered the conference's top returning players.
Portland State and Sacramento emerged as co-favorites to win the conference title in a preseason poll of WFC coaches. Each got two first-place votes and 28 points. San Luis Obispo, which had the nation's best defense against the run last season, also got two first-place votes and was picked third, with 24 points. The Mustangs were followed by Northridge (19), Santa Clara (17) and Southern Utah (10.)