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Standing Tall : Wachholtz Doesn't Start, but He's Starting to Impress

September 27, 1995|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tedy Bruschi, the Arizona defensive end who has recorded more sacks than anyone in Pac-10 history, has a bead on another victim, USC quarterback Kyle Wachholtz.

Looks as if Wachholtz can't find anyone open and here is Bruschi, coming under a full head of steam . . . WHAM!

Uh-oh. Slight problem here for Bruschi.

Wachholtz doesn't go down. Looks like a Greco-Roman wrestling match. Now Bruschi's trying to leg-whip him down, while hanging from Wachholtz's shoulders. How embarrassing.

Finally, an official separates them, with Wachholtz still on his feet.

The reason for the standoff is apparent now. Wachholtz is looking down on the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Bruschi.

*

If Kyle John Wachholtz isn't the world's biggest, strongest quarterback, he's certainly up there. Actually, he isn't even the tallest quarterback at USC. Nor is he the starter.

Brad Otton goes 6-6, an inch taller than Wachholtz, and weighs 225. But somehow, standing next to the 240-pound Wachholtz, he looks frail.

"He's the biggest, strongest quarterback I've ever had," Coach John Robinson said of Wachholtz.

In Tucson last Saturday night, Wachholtz had a threshold game. About time. When this 23-year-old senior last grabbed a headline, George Bush was president.

It was Oct. 3, 1992, at Seattle. As the No. 3 quarterback that day, Wachholtz watched first Rob Johnson get knocked out and then Reggie Perry get the hook from Coach Larry Smith.

In the fourth quarter of a game USC lost, 17-10, freshman Wachholtz--it's pronounced WAH-holtz--drove a stalled USC offense deep into Washington territory before throwing an end zone interception.

And for Wachholtz, that was pretty much it until he stepped onto the field at Arizona Stadium before 58,503 last Saturday night.

Playing the second and fourth quarters behind Otton, Wachholtz completed eight of nine passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. He was sharp, made big plays and showed the toughness that has been his trademark in this season of rotating USC quarterbacks.

The way Wachholtz stood up to Bruschi's charge was reminiscent of the San Jose State opener, when he carried the ball 23 yards down the San Jose sideline, finally decking a cornerback in a thumping collision. On that one, too, the quarterback stayed up.

"That's the way Kyle's always been," said his proud father, Ken, a retired electrician. "He's always played the quarterback position like he was a linebacker. It's how he was taught by his high school coach."

Wachholtz, of Norwegian-German stock, is from a family in which everyone is big--except his parents.

"I'm 5-8 1/2 and my wife's 5-6," Ken said.

"But the other men in our families are all 6-3 to 6-7. My grandfather on my mom's side was 6-3 and 310, and could pull a one-horse plow across a field by himself."

The Wachholtz family is from Nebraska. Ken Wachholtz's brother, Larry, was an All-American safety at Nebraska 30 years ago. Kyle Wachholtz became a standout prep player at Norco High, coached by Gary Campbell.

"He's just a big, tough, strong kid who fits the mold of a football player," Campbell said.

"He's the type where if he takes a shot on the chin, he'll say, 'Oh, you want to get physical? OK, let's go.' "

Campbell won't be sure whom to cheer for Saturday, when USC plays Arizona State at the Coliseum. His own son, Steve, is a freshman backup quarterback for the Sun Devils.

Wachholtz turned down major baseball bonus money and went to USC in 1991.

He arrived at USC with two other widely recruited quarterbacks, Johnson and Perry. After a redshirt year, he played behind Johnson for two seasons. While Wachholtz was academically ineligible last season, Otton, a transfer from Weber State, got a jump on this season's starting job as Johnson's relief man.

Wachholtz, who twice nearly left USC, came out of spring practice in a dead heat with Otton. Robinson then first spoke of a two-quarterback rotation, and the concept held up through preseason camp.

But when the games began, many thought, surely one would have the job.

But it's still a dead heat, as Robinson said Tuesday.

"An ESPN radio guy gave me a lecture about how we needed one established quarterback, and I told him our coaches and our players are quite comfortable with what we're doing," the coach said.

So is Otton.

"Coach stresses team attitude and overall team goals in all the meetings, and he puts it in a way that I feel selfish if I catch myself thinking about personal goals," he said.

"At first I felt like I was competing against Kyle, but I don't feel that way anymore. When he's in there, I'm pulling for him and he pulls for me. Anyway, if you look at the Pac-10 the last couple of years, you need two quarterbacks just to get through the season."

Otton and Wachholtz together have completed 68% of their passes for 849 yards, nine touchdowns and no interceptions. They're also ranked first and second among Pac-10 quarterbacks.

As for his eight-for-nine night in Tucson, Wachholtz talked like an athlete who has turned a corner.

"I needed that game," he said. "I needed it for my confidence. Now I have something to build on."

For Wachholtz, that's a speech. He has little to say about his play, and that's how it has always been, his father said.

"That's the kind of kid he is," Ken Wachholtz said.

"Nothing bothers him. He does his job, he sits down, shuts up--and that's it."

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