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McClanahan Quietly Hunts Respect : College football: Washington State linebacker, son of former NFL player, looks ahead to an outdoor future. But first comes UCLA.

November 04, 1993|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Anthony McClanahan has had only occasional regrets since that autumn day in 1988, when he walked across the Rose Bowl field while on a UCLA recruiting trip to tell a Washington State coach he had heard good things about Pullman.

Those regrets usually come when a linebacker he doesn't consider his equal gets the national acclaim that comes so hard to the Pacific 10 hinterlands.

"If I was at Florida State or somewhere else, I would be more famous," he says.

But that's why he went to eastern Washington--to keep limelight at arm's length and also to have a place to hunt and fish, avocations from childhood.

It's something of a paradox, but so is Anthony McClanahan, who sees a future in the NFL but attaches equal importance to off-seasons away from its cities. His experience with big-time football came early, from occasional visits with an absentee father playing first at Arizona State and then with the Minnesota Vikings. But he also saw how withdrawal from fame can affect a man, and he wants solitude on his own terms.

"My dad helped me. I like to party, and he would press me on my grades and on things like homework. But there also were people who said I got what I got in football because I was Brent McClanahan's son," Anthony says. "I wanted to show them that they were wrong."

Where better than Pullman?

"I figured it was a program where I could make an immediate difference, rather than just someplace to play," he says.

He carried an attitude to Pullman, built on Southern California acclaim from a Bakersfield High team that sent four players to the Pac-10 and others to Division I schools. He had been on national television, albeit briefly, and that was part of the resume he took to Washington State.

Judge Wapner had pronounced him guilty of being too small to play college linebacker.

"It was one of those weird things," McClanahan says. "A girl in high school says I asked her to the prom. Actually, she asked the question and I never said yes. I took another girl to the prom, but the first girl had bought a dress.

"She sued my mom for like five times the cost of the dress. 'People's Court' heard about it and brought us on."

Anthony and Brent McClanahan appeared as respondents. Wapner ruled in their favor.

"Then he started talking about me, saying I was too small to play college linebacker," Anthony says. "Maybe that's where it started."

He was a cocky 195 pounds, ready to fight the veterans who hazed him when he got to Pullman. He has grown to 222 pounds as a senior, playing middle linebacker and ranking second in tackles in the Pac-10 with an average of 10.6 per game in a defense designed to send others after a quarterback and have McClanahan concentrate on the run. It's effective enough to be the second-ranked rushing defense in the country, behind Arizona.

"Anthony has a sixth sense, a natural instinct to get to the ball, an ability to get through traffic and he has tremendous acceleration," says Washington State linebacker coach Bill Doba. "Basically, we just kind of line him up, coach him to shuffle, turn him loose and let him run."

Having sprinters' speed helps.

"He's a much better football player now than I was," Brent McClanahan says.

He's a mixture of cockiness and quiet reflection, one built on results, the other on observation and experience, and he bounces between the extremes.

"I'd like to have about 20 tackles Saturday," he says about the Cougars' game against UCLA at Pullman. "I can see them passing to J.J. Stokes, and somebody lines him up downfield and I finish it off in my last home game with my class, the last time I walk through that tunnel at the stadium."

Then he talks of an NFL career, but also of one away from television and crowded stadiums. And of taking children away from the city to see what he sees.

A criminal justice major scheduled to graduate in December, he says he would like to become a game warden. "I guess I'd be unusual in that. You never see a minority as a game warden. I never see another black man hunting.

"I'd like to take kids from an inner city up here, give them guns--well, they have guns, but give them guns under supervision, and show them how to hunt, how to fish. I think it would help them."

It's a desire to be his own man, on his own terms, to prevent the problems he has seen first-hand from happening to him and others. It's partly fed by a visit home, to Bakersfield, in 1991, when Brent was charged with being under the influence of PCP.

It's a situation Brent does not talk about, preferring to speak of the present and the future, of his son and of his own life, now spent in graduate school, working toward a job in counseling.

He had come home from the NFL, worked with children in a Boys and Girls Club and then left the job when their problems became his, and when he sensed a lack of support and resources to deal with those problems.

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