ORANGE — Although Chapman linebacker Shawn Racobs' path to this point has been twisted, it has led him exactly where he wanted to be all along: playing football and earning a college degree.
A year ago Racobs and his wife, Julie, were living from paycheck to paycheck, working to support their two children. Racobs was toiling up to 60 hours a week in a medical supply warehouse, wondering if his dreams of completing his college education were slipping away.
"Being out in the work force," Racobs said, "and looking around and seeing guys who have been in the warehouse for 15-16 years really not making that much more money than they were 15 years ago, it just gets you thinking."
Occasionally, he would also reflect on his discontinuous college football career--he was on the roster at Fullerton College in 1988 and '90 and played at Sonoma State in 1992--and long for a sense of completion.
So when he heard that Kirk Jellerson, who coached him at Fullerton, was helping to start a football program at Chapman, Racobs saw an opportunity.
"The main thing for me is I wanted to come back to school and get my degree," Racobs said. "I think when I was younger, football came before school and I think over the years I've learned it really should be the other way around."
Racobs plans to graduate from Chapman in spring, 1997, with a degree in U.S. history and his teaching credential. He wants to be a high school teacher and coach.
Meanwhile, he is enjoying his last hurrah on the football field. Admittedly a couple steps slower than he was when he last played in 1992, Racobs, 6 feet 3 and 235 pounds, is still a valued member of Chapman's powerful NCAA Division III team, which plays at Menlo Saturday. He backs up middle linebacker Aaron Gutridge, a captain and the team's leading tackler, and calls out blocking assignments on punt returns.
Racobs, 26, takes some ribbing because of his age. Preparing for a game against Cal Lutheran, "We were talking about stopping their starting tailback [Ken Herbs] who is 29 years old," Racobs said. "Coach Jellerson said, 'This guy is 29 and that's older than Racobs so there's no reason we shouldn't be able to stop him.' "
With Racobs starting for the injured Gutridge, the Panthers did just fine against Herbs and Cal Lutheran, holding the tailback to 30 yards in 10 carries and the team to 54 yards rushing. Racobs also had an interception in the 38-7 victory.
Despite his age and family commitments, Racobs says he doesn't feel out of place on the Chapman team. "You find out that you aren't all alone," he said, "that a lot of guys are in similar situations."
Coach Ken Visser agrees. "There are a lot of people who say, 'I want to get my degree, I'll just start by taking three units of night school at Cal State Fullerton or Long Beach State,' " Visser said. "But football gave him the impetus to enroll full time, go back and get it done."
Racobs always planned to get it done; he just thought it would happen sooner. The Orange League lineman of the year for Valencia in 1986, Racobs planned to play two years at Fullerton College and then earn a Division I scholarship.
But responsibilities intervened. Julie, then his girlfriend, gave birth to Josh a week before they graduated from Valencia. Racobs took a year off from school to work and help support his son. When he returned to Fullerton in 1988, he was sidelined most of the season by stress fractures in both his shins.
For financial reasons and because he wasn't 100% healthy, he took a full-time warehouse job during the 1989-90 school year, before returning to Fullerton in 1990 and winning a starting position and helping the Hornets to a 7-3 finish.
After leaving Fullerton, Racobs skipped another year of football before catching on at Sonoma State. He again started at linebacker and helped his team to a 7-3 record, but he wasn't happy. The football team wasn't as disciplined as he was used to under Hal Sherbeck at Fullerton and Mike Marrujo of Valencia, and he missed his family.
So in the summer of 1993, he returned to Orange County and moved in with Julie. The couple married about nine months later.
Racobs set about providing for his family, which now also includes a daughter, Jacque, 3, but thoughts of college were never far from his mind.
Chapman, financial aid, grants and student loans have made it possible for Racobs to try college again. This time, he says, he has put football in its place, behind his studies.
"Before, if I had a chance to look at a book or a scouting report, I'd pick up a scouting report," he said. "I was basically doing enough to get by. Then I realized you have to do more than that.
"I think I've been pretty fortunate to be able to come back. I think there are a lot of guys who just walk away and that's it for the rest of their life."
The Panthers (4-1) play at Menlo at 1:30 p.m Saturday. Menlo, 2-7 last year, is in the midst of another long season. The Oaks (0-5) have lost by an average score of 45-11. Key statistics: Menlo has given up 279 yards a game on the ground. Chapman has gained an average of 281 rushing yards. . . . Chapman quarterback Curtis Robinson said Thursday he is scheduled to undergo reconstructive knee surgery next Friday. With Greg Hyland questionable with a pulled gluteus muscle, Josh Bravo will start at quarterback.