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COLLEGE FOOTBALL / 1996

Hey, if You Can't Join 'Em, Beat 'Em

Arizona: Chris McAlister, son of former UCLA great, comes back to haunt Bruins with kickoff return.

November 17, 1996|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TUCSON — Don't tell Chris McAlister revenge was his.

Despite returning a kickoff for 102 yards to break open Arizona's 35-17 victory over UCLA on Saturday, McAlister is not satisfied.

McAlister, a sophomore cornerback for Arizona, holds a grudge against UCLA that goes beyond football rivalries.

If the name sounds familiar to UCLA fans, there's a good reason: McAlister is the son of 1973 Bruin All-American halfback James McAlister.

Chris McAlister grew up a UCLA fan. He grew up in UCLA's family. He went to all the games, all the functions. UCLA is the only place he ever wanted to play.

After starring as a option quarterback at Pasadena High, it looked as if he might get the chance. McAlister had difficulty achieving the required Scholastic Assessment Test score to be admitted to UCLA as a freshman, so he took the SAT three times before getting a satisfactory score in July 1995.

Relieved and ready, McAlister was prepared to follow his destiny and committed to play football for the Bruins.

But in August, UCLA asked the Education Testing Service to challenge his qualifying scores. When the ETS challenged the scores and started its investigation, it meant McAlister could not enroll at an NCAA school.

"I hear from my father, and then later I heard from another source, that UCLA was the one to challenge the scores," McAlister said. "It really hurt me. I had done so much to get there and then they do that."

From that point, McAlister knew he would try to attend a Pacific 10 Conference school so he could play against UCLA.

While he awaited the results of the ETS investigation, McAlister played defensive back at Mt. San Antonio College.

At the end of the season, he found out that his scores had been verified by the ETS. By then it was too late for UCLA.

"I wouldn't say my family hates UCLA, but I would say there is some discomfort there," McAlister said.

He had been waiting for this game for more than a year.

And he felt it. He couldn't sleep. Once on the field, it didn't go away--in the third quarter he headed for the locker room because he felt sick to his stomach.

And as Bjorn Merten's 40-yard field goal in the fourth quarter cut Arizona's lead to 21-17, he was worried that UCLA could still get the best of him.

He took care of all that on the next play.

McAlister received the kickoff two yards deep in his end zone and, after hesitating, decided to run it up the middle. He was barely touched as he broke through the wedge and then cut to the right sideline. From there, it was a footrace that he would not lose.

With about 20 yards left to cover, McAlister raised the football over his head in triumph.

"When he did that, I said, 'Whooooaaaaaa,' " Arizona Coach Dick Tomey said. "But he joined us late, so he missed when we talk about doing things like that. That play was a real lift. He missed all that early practice, and he still has just been wonderful for us."

McAlister set an Arizona record for the longest kickoff return, breaking Wallace Smith's 98-yard mark set in 1935 against Whittier. It was Arizona's first return for a score since Michael Bates went 97 yards against Washington State in 1991.

James McAlister was as proud as he could be.

"I nearly lost my voice and I almost lost my balance a couple of times," he said. "He's been waiting for this. He showed he can play and he belongs. The game was not against the people at UCLA. It was a game between two football teams."

Chris McAlister, while happy about the results, says nothing has changed his grudge against UCLA.

"I wouldn't say it closes the chapter," he said. "I wasn't totally satisfied with the way I played [on defense]. The fact that it's a different coaching staff doesn't change anything. If it was Terry Donahue over there, I would feel the same way. My feelings about UCLA are not going to change while I'm playing NCAA Division I football."

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