Arizona State placekicker Luis Zendejas, that noted bilingual auto mechanic, is called Automatic, which has nothing to do with the transmission in his 1968 Camaro. Zendejas, unlike his Chevy, never needs to have his timing adjusted. "We've done a great job of leaving him alone," says Sun Devil coach Darryl Rogers. Zendejas was a first-team All-America selection last season, when he equaled an NCAA record with 28 field goals. He should eclipse Tony Dorsett's career scoring record of 356 points by midseason.
Zendejas was a featured speaker at as many as five athletic banquets a week last spring. Handsome, intelligent and personable, he is a fan favorite. And he speaks Spanish in a state with a large Hispanic community. "He's Number One on the hit parade," Rogers says.
But Zendejas is hardly the whole game plan. Ten of 11 starters return from a defense that last fall was both stingy—it yielded just 294.5 yards per game, the fewest in the Pac-10—and woefully green. The Devils lost three games in the final minute, two in the last 10 seconds. "What it got down to was inexperienced kids," says Rogers. "When more pressure was put on, we didn't hold up as well."
The defensive line was also too light. This year the front three have beefed up 20 to 25 pounds a man. End Taleni Wright and noseguard Danny Saleaumua are two of seven Samoans on the team. Wright, who's 6'3", 250 pounds, was a three-time MVP of his high school volleyball team in Samoa and can dunk a ball over the crossbar. Saleaumua is 6 feet, 285 pounds and has happy feet. He belongs to a Samoan dance company in San Diego and has outstanding lateral movement.
Linebacker Jimmy Williams is small—6 feet, 220—but tough. He was a two-time state wrestling champ at Tempe High and used to go by Sun Devil Stadium on his way to school. He has led the Sun Devils in tackles the last two years. Safety David Fulcher, a 6'3", 220-pound blitzer, had 110 tackles in '83, including five sacks, and four interceptions.
Rogers canceled the final three days of spring practice, satisfied that he'd found a quarterback in Jeff Van Raaphorst, who played only two minutes in 1983. Van Raaphorst has a terrific arm: In his senior year in high school, he passed for 2,975 yards and 25 TDs. He also has gridiron genes: His father, Dick, placekicked for Ohio State, the Dallas Cowboys and the San Diego Chargers. What he obviously doesn't have is experience. As for the dangers of a neophyte signal-caller, Rogers says, "He'll be excellent in every phase you'd ever want until 7:30 Saturday night. The defense may do something he's not prepared for. Will he adjust? Will he see it? When 70,000 fans are there, will he perform?"
Rogers has no such anxieties about junior tailback Darryl Clack, who last season led the Pac-10 in rushing with a 93.2-yards-per-game average. In high school Clack was known as Mr. Click, and during his freshman year at Arizona State, stadium vendors sold maroon-and-gold metal noisemakers known as Darryl Clackers (three for $1).
The inexperienced offensive line calls itself The Hogs, but it may just be Deviled ham. A bigger problem for the offense will be to resist easing-up inside the 30—"Automatic" territory. "With Luis, anytime you're inside the 35 you have a great chance to come away with points," says Rogers, "but it also hurts you because you become a three-down team."
As far as problems go, Zendejas is a nice one to have.
One of seven Samoans on the squad, Saleaumua boogies while his teammates pump iron.