Penn State coach Joe Paterno called the other day to ask about the alligator. In his campaign to persuade Bethlehem (Pa.) Catholic High senior Dan Kendra III to attend Penn State, Paterno figured he should find out if Dan's two-foot pet reptile might be heading off to college as well. The kid told the legend, yes, it's a package deal. Whoever gets Dan gets Floyd too.
"Before his game last Friday night I looked into his room, and he was on his bed with the alligator," says Dan's mom, Diane. "He had this mouse he was feeding to it, and, I swear, you should have seen the look on his face. He was enjoying it."
From an 18-year-old who has a black belt in taekwondo you were expecting maybe a long-haired Persian? No, an alligator's ideal for someone who once owned a piranha and who rappels, snowboards, bench-presses 365 pounds, squats 500 pounds, runs the 40 in 4.5 seconds, carries single-digit body fat on his 6'2", 225-pound frame and lists as his childhood heroes Bruce Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lawrence Taylor.
Scariest of all, given his musculature and commando attitude, Dan plays that glamour-boy position that has spawned salesmen for underwear and panty hose: quarterback. "People tell me, 'Don't send him to Penn State; they'll make him a linebacker,' " Dan II says. "No, they won't. Believe me, he's a quarterback."
"There's no question in my mind that he's the Number 1 quarterback prospect in the country," says Phil Grosz, a national recruiting watchdog. "The Notre Dame people won't like this, but he's a better prospect than Ron Powlus was."
Notre Dame, Powlus or not, says it would love to have Dan, who has 1,939 yards rushing and 6,087 yards passing as a four-year starter. His team's record is 34-13 during that time. The Irish are one of many teams that account for the two stereo-speaker-sized boxes of love letters he has collected. The missive that arrived last Saturday from South Bend—replete with an embossed gold helmet in the upper righthand corner—contained an insert with brief sketches of previous Notre Dame quarterbacks, including Joe Theismann, Joe Montana and Rick Mirer. "I want you to visualize your name among those listed," wrote one of the Irish coaches. "I am sure this challenge motivates you. Daniel Kendra, Quarterback, Notre Dame!"
In the same batch of mail was a card from a coach at an ACC school who whined about his team's poor passing statistics in a recent game. The note concluded, "We need you!"
As usual, Dan bothered to read none of the mail, leaving that chore to his father while he skipped out to watch his girlfriend, Christy Cochran, a starter on Bethlehem Catholic's girls' volleyball team, play in the state tournament. Christy has already accepted a scholarship offer from Penn State, which could position the Nittany Lions as the favorite to nab her boyfriend. Then again, maybe West Virginia has an edge, because that's where Dan II played quarterback before he went on to a brief career in the NFL and the CFL Or maybe it's Florida State, because Seminole coach Bobby Bowden not only coached Dan II at West Virginia but also sent him flowers with a helmet-clad teddy bear when Dan III was born during Dan II's junior year. Or maybe it's Notre Dame, because of its fancy stationery and alumnus Regis Philbin's over-the-air exhortation for Dan to sign with the Irish.
Dan expects to decide by the end of the year. "You can tell if you fit in or if you don't," he says. "You go where your heart tells you to go."
This much appears certain: The winner of the Kendra sweepstakes will wind up with a thick-skinned, indomitable character. The quarterback who accompanies Floyd is one tough dude too.
The top prep signal-caller has pen pals named Paterno and Bowden.