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Original Issue


Thirteen miles north of Pocahontas, 11 miles south of Emmetsburg
and a million miles from the moral minefield of big-time
football, a wooden duck the size of a potbellied stove sits
perched upon a sign on Highway 4 in Mallard, Iowa. The sign
360) had been the home of Mark Kacmarynski and his eight
brothers and sisters until four years ago when their mother,
Anna Mae, sold the family farm and moved to Emmetsburg, thereby
reducing the population of Ducktown, U.S.A., by almost 3%.

Only Mark, the youngest, now lives with his mother in the white
house with green trim in Emmetsburg, which boasts both of the
traffic lights in Palo Alto County. Baseball caps in the local
Pizza Hut are worn with the bills facing front, and only the
women have earrings. The farmers and townsfolk of northwest Iowa
are friendly ducks, indeed. When he was in high school,
Kacmarynski (pronounced KAC-muh-RIN-ski) routinely left the keys
in the ignition of his truck. Mark cuts the grass with a hand
mower, a job that should take a half hour but invariably lasts
45 minutes because he stops to return the waves of everyone who
drives by.

"I'm just a boring guy," Kacmarynski says, "living in a boring
state, Iowa."

Kacmarynski also is the best Division III running back in the
nation, playing on one of the best teams, Central College of
Pella, Iowa. He is bigger (6'1", 220 pounds), faster (4.6 in the
40), shiftier and stronger than most of the sociology students
and applied science majors who struggle to haul him down.
Kacmarynski has rushed for 3,854 yards and scored 41 touchdowns
in three seasons. He has gained at least 100 yards in 12
straight games and more than 200 in four of his last six. A KAC
FOR HEISMAN banner turns up at many Central home games, which of
course is a waste of a good bedsheet. The rewards are different
in Division III, even if the values are supposed to be the same.
"The thing about Mark is he knows how to work," Central coach
Ron Schipper says. "He comes from a wonderful family. Knowing
how to work and respecting those who do work makes him

If you farm, you work. "No one likes work that much,"
Kacmarynski says. "You wouldn't call it work if it were fun."
But years of feeding cattle, baling hay, sorting hogs for market
and weeding soybeans by hand has infused Kacmarynski with an
acute sense of responsibility. He has never skipped out on
anything, whether it is a practice, a weightlifting session or
Sunday morning Mass.

In high school during harvest season Kacmarynski would be
working in the fields until midnight on Wednesdays and
Thursdays, but Fridays belonged to football. The wind dies at
dusk in autumn, and a haze of grain dust settles over the Friday
night lights of rural Iowa. You could smell football in Mallard.
The high school field was bounded by fields of corn, oats,
soybeans--depending on that year's crop rotation--as if Ray
Kinsella had swapped his baseball mitt for the I formation. The
whole town would come out to watch its Ducks, and as Kacmarynski
broke tackles and the team marched down the field, fans on the
sidelines would follow the ball in lockstep until they ringed
the end zone. There were 11 in Kacmarynski's class (he not only
knew their names, he knew their birthdays) and only 22 players
on the team, but the Ducks reached the state's Class A semifinal
for small schools his junior year. The following fall Mallard
merged with West Bend High, and one of the great school cheers
was forever lost:

Black and Gold,
Gold and Black,
Mallard Ducks
Go quack, quack, quack.

Kacmarynski attracted some recruiters, including one from South
Dakota. He had a visit planned for Northern Iowa, a Division
I-AA program, but he also had to take an examination at Central
that weekend if he wanted to qualify for an academic
scholarship. Kacmarynski chose to take the test. By the time he
could reschedule a visit, Northern Iowa had used all of its
scholarship slots, so Kacmarynski went to Central, where his
brothers Rich and Phil had played.

"I thought about maybe going to a Division I school and walking
on," Mark says, "but I heard how they don't care about you as a
walk-on. I wanted to go to a place where I'd be respected. And
to be honest, I wanted to play where they win."

Central College wins. The Flying Dutch men have had 34 straight
winning seasons, the most in the nation--and one more than
Nebraska. Schipper's 270 victories ranks him sixth all-time, one
spot ahead of somebody named Joe Paterno. Among the big names
who have played for Schipper are Vern Den Herder (class of '71),
a standout defensive end for the Miami Dolphins for 12 seasons,
and Harry Smith (class of '73), who now takes early-morning
handoffs on CBS from Paula Zahn. But the raw quantity of the
Central program is more staggering than the quality: Of the 550
males at the school, more than 130 will play for the Dutch this

Schipper expects his players to be students, athletes and
gentlemen, which is why Kacmarynski, a math and computer-science
major, is sheepish about his 2.9 grade point average. When
marked on the Kacmarynski Curve, it is practically a D. Rich, a
former Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference MVP and now an
assistant coach at Central, carried a 3.9 while he was carrying
the ball; he was an Academic All-America in 1991 and earned an
NCAA postgraduate scholarship. But Mark should hardly fret. A
few of Saturday's heroes across the land can barely count past
Kacmarynski's GPA without using their fingers.

But the seemingly eternal rhythms of a football-playing farm
boy's life will change this winter. There are few gridiron jobs
for ex-Division III tailbacks, although Kacmarynski will look at
Arenaball, the World League, Canada, wherever someone will
give a chance to a man who has never been afraid of an honest
day's work. Kacmarynski can envision life without the farm, but
he can't imagine life without football. When you are a friendly
Duck and you run not for daylight but through a grain-dust haze
on a fragrant Iowa night, the smell of football stays with you

COLOR PHOTO: DOUG KNUTSON Kacmarynski led a quack attack in Mallard before soaring with the Flying Dutchmen. [Mark Kacmarynski]