Height of Fashion
Tall receivers are the latest thing as offenses try to get a jump
on short cornerbacks
Mike Bush, a 6'6" junior, is the leading returning scorer on the
Washington State basketball team, and here's how he broke down a
recent play: "Got my body between [my opponent] and the ball,
boxed him out and went and got it." Bush's description, however,
was of his touchdown catch against 5'11" Stanford cornerback Ryan
Fernandez in a 45-39 victory on Oct. 13.
A look at the best wideouts in the nation reveals the latest
trend in the passing game: tall receivers. To combat the fast
cornerbacks whose press man coverage allows the rest of the
defense to focus on stopping the run, offenses have redoubled
their efforts to recruit wide receivers who can play above the
At the same time some two-sport athletes are discovering that the
road to the NFL may be easier to navigate than the road to the
NBA. Take 6'5" Georgia freshman wideout Fred Gibson, who made
nine catches for a school-record 201 yards in the Bulldogs' 43-29
defeat of Kentucky on Oct. 20. Gibson didn't play football until
his junior year at Ware County High in Waycross, Ga., and only
then for a practical reason. "I like football, but I love
basketball," he says. "But it's easier to get to the NFL if
you're 6'5" and a good wide receiver. In basketball I'm a 6'5"
shooting guard. A person can be 6'10" and do the same thing I do,
and the NBA will take him before it'll take me."
For years recruiters have checked out the basketball skills of
the receiver prospects who play hoops. "Basketball helps you see
how well a kid can get open, what kind of hands he has, how high
he can jump and what kind of competitor he is," says Louisville
tight ends coach Greg Nord.
Stanford sophomore Teyo Johnson is a 6'7", 245-pound wideout who
averaged 4.1 points a game at forward for the Cardinal basketball
team that reached the Elite Eight last March. He leads Stanford
in receptions (29) and touchdown catches (six) this fall. "You
may have him covered like a blanket when the ball is in the air,
but he still comes down with it," says Washington coach Rick
Neuheisel, whose Huskies couldn't stop Johnson from making six
catches for 80 yards in their 42-28 victory on Nov. 3.
Not all the big guys are torn between two sports. Washington's
6'4" freshman Reggie Williams, one of the most coveted recruits
in the nation last February, is strictly a football man, as is
6'3" senior Marquise Walker of Michigan, a semifinalist for the
To exploit the length of 6'4", 225-pound freshman wideout Kelley
Washington, Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders has
made the underthrown pass a part of the Vols' game plan. Rather
than hit Washington in stride, quarterback Casey Clausen
occasionally delivers the ball so that Washington and the man
covering him will have to stop and jump for it. "The first thing
I look for in the scouting report is size," Washington says. "It
doesn't matter how fast the cornerbacks are. I look at how tall
Washington had better enjoy the height advantage while he can.
The next step in the evolution of the passing game? Big corners.
UCLA has already found one in 6'3" freshman Matt Ware, who has
started every game this year.
Toughest Coach to Work For?
A Bum Rap For Saban?
LSU coach Nick Saban has few peers as a defensive strategist, but
according to his confreres he has no equal when it comes to being
tough to work for. SI asked a sampling of assistants and other
football staffers across the nation who the most difficult bosses
are. Among those named were Lou Holtz of South Carolina, for his
caustic tongue; Paul Pasqualoni of Syracuse, for the long hours
he demands; and Bob Toledo of UCLA, for the way he has hung his
defensive coordinators out to dry (which may explain why he has
had four of them in six years). However, more coaches from a
wider array of conferences (the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC)
mentioned Saban than any other coach.
Saban, 50, drives his staff so hard that early in his coaching
career, when he was an assistant at West Virginia in the late
1970s, he earned the nickname Nick (No Thank You) Saban. "He's
never, ever going to tell his staff, 'Hey, good job,'" says one
of Saban's former underlings. "If you win 48-0, it's on to the
"I've heard all the stories," Saban says. "I don't know how I got
that reputation." Then he thinks for a minute. "When the
assistants didn't come [to Louisiana State], that contributed to
it." After Saban was hired from Michigan State in November 1999,
LSU sent a plane north to pick up anyone on Saban's old staff who
wanted to join him in Baton Rouge. The plane returned empty. The
assistants chose to stay in East Lansing and work for Bobby
Williams and not uproot their families.
Since then, Saban's reputation for going through assistants has
grown. The key word is reputation, because many tales about Saban
have been exaggerated or are untrue. Take the story of why his
first defensive coordinator with the Tigers, John Thompson,
stayed less than a month before leaving. Supposedly Saban cussed
out Thompson for getting the two of them lost in New Orleans on
the way to a recruit's house. "It never happened," says Thompson,
who made a lateral move to Arkansas to be near his parents. "I
had no problems with Nick. He got upset when I left so soon, but
Or consider that after Michigan State won a bid to the 1997 Aloha
Bowl, Saban called daily 5 a.m. coaches' meetings in Honolulu. In
fact, the staff as a whole made that decision because the coaches
wanted to operate on mainland time and be able to go to the beach
with their families in the afternoons.
Or ponder that Saban demands that his assistants eat lunch at
their desks. He says he has lunch brought in because that was
the routine during his six seasons as an NFL secondary coach and
defensive coordinator, and he found it a more efficient use of
Or consider the story that Saban never referred to anyone on the
video staff at Michigan State by name, but was forever barking
out things like, "Go get the f------ video guy." That one's more
or less true. "That was one name used," Michigan State director
of sports broadcasting Rick Church says. "[Saban] wanted to get
the work done his way and get it done now."
Saban admits to being detail-oriented. "If they think I'm hard on
them, I've worked all night the night before, showered, not
shaved and kept going," he says. "I don't ask anybody else to do
Many coaches who left Saban took better jobs because of what they
learned from him. "Nick is the best head coach I ever worked
for," says Kent State coach Dean Pees, Saban's defensive
coordinator for three years at Michigan State. "Some people think
Nick is not personable enough. I didn't know that that has
anything to do with coaching. Stories about coaches start out,
and everybody keeps adding to them."
UCLA Star Suspended
Loan of Car Has Hidden Costs
Not to rain on your parade or anything, a reporter said to UCLA
senior running back DeShaun Foster in September, when the Bruins
were 2-0, but how will this team avoid a repeat of last season's
collapse, during which UCLA dropped four of its final six
regular-season games? "Mainly the senior leadership we have,"
replied Foster. "There are 24 of us, and we're not going to allow
that to happen this year."
Do as Foster says, Bruins underclassmen, not as he does. After
starting 6-0, UCLA has lost three straight games, including last
Saturday's 21-20 defeat at the hands of Oregon, which provided an
apt conclusion to an ugly week for the Bruins. Foster, who leads
the Pac-10 in rushing with 1,109 yards, learned on Nov. 7 that he
would be suspended for the game against the Ducks--and possibly
longer--for violating the NCAA's "extra benefit" rule.
The benefit in this case was a 2002 Ford Expedition that was lent
to Foster by a 49-year-old television director and former actor,
Eric Laneuville, best known for his role as hospital orderly
Luther Hawkins in the 1980s TV drama St. Elsewhere. Foster has
reportedly said he met Laneuville a few years ago and that they
became friends. Yes, he'd been tooling around in the SUV, Foster
admitted to an NCAA investigator last week, but only because his
own car was in the shop. (This account raised a few eyebrows
because the NCAA learned that Foster had been driving the vehicle
for about a month.)
Because the sculpted, 6'1", 215-pound Foster will almost surely
be a first-round pick in next spring's NFL draft, UCLA and NCAA
officials were keenly interested in learning whether Laneuville
was just being a generous guy or was recruiting Foster on behalf
of an agent. If the former was the case, Foster could be back in
uniform for the Bruins' game against USC on Saturday. If it turns
out Laneuville is helping out an agent, Foster could be done for
the season. (Neither Foster nor Laneuville could be reached for
comment by week's end.)
According to his high school and college coaches, Foster merely
suffered a lapse in judgment. Then again, in July 2000, he was
cited for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, a charge
to which he later pleaded guilty and paid a $250 fine. With his
latest misstep he has not only contributed to UCLA's collapse but
also drop-kicked his Heisman hopes.
Nevertheless, some teammates defended Foster on Saturday.
"DeShaun is our brother," junior reserve linebacker Audie Attar
said after the game, which ended with Bruins kicker Chris
Griffith missing a 50-yard field goal attempt on the final play.
"Not only did we want to [win this game] for us; we wanted to do
it for him," said Attar. "When he has 300 yards, he's everyone's
friend. Now people aren't supporting him."
Friends describe Foster as a homebody whose idea of a big night
is a movie with his apartmentmates, tight end Bryan Fletcher and
Damesha Craig, a former sprinter for the Bruins' women's track
team who's now studying acting. He's also a big Monopoly fan,
with a weakness for such bargain properties as Baltic Avenue and
the powder-blue streets: Vermont, Connecticut and Oriental. "I'm
a slumlord," he said in October. That fits with his running
style. Foster does his best work in one of the gridiron's tougher
neighborhoods--between the tackles.
It may be telling that when Foster took on Fletcher in Monopoly
with a reporter looking on, Foster was partial to a certain game
piece. He didn't want to be the dog or the old hat or even the
shoe. He liked the car. --Austin Murphy
For complete scores, schedules and stats, plus Ivan Maisel's
exclusive weekly Heisman Watch, go to cnnsi.com/football/college.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Among the bumper crop of sure-handed tall wide receivers are the 6'5" Gibson (82), the 6'3" Walker (4) and the 6'6" Bush.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK [See caption above]
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER Foster's use of a friend's leased car could cost him the Pac-10 rushing title and much more.
YA GOTTA LOVE THIS GUY
As an all-district quarterback at Burleson (Texas) High in 1996,
Steve Kelly signed with Miami. However, after redshirting one
year and seeing only mop-up duty the next, Kelly left school and
returned home to get married and take a job in the shipping and
receiving department of an interior design business. One year as
a working stiff was all Kelly needed to persuade him to enroll at
Division II Tarleton State, at which he's majoring in exercise
and sports science and again making headlines on the field. In
three seasons he has set school career records for passing yards
(7,686), completions (569) and touchdown throws (48). Last
Saturday he led the Texans to a 34-24 win over Texas A&M-Commerce
that ran their record to 9-2 and gave them a share of the Lone
Star Conference championship. Tarleton State will also make its
first appearance in the Division II playoffs in 11 years this
An NFL scout assesses Fresno State senior David Carr, who has
completed 243 of 379 passes for 3,171 yards and 30 TDs this fall
"I'm sure he's the best quarterback available. I really like the
way he throws. He has good rotation on the ball. He's also
adequately mobile. If he's sequencing through his receivers, he
can drop his arm to three-quarters and zing the ball. Some guys
who get to their third or fourth receiver will pull it down and
take off, but he zips it. To me, that's worth as much as
mobility. If [former Marshall quarterback] Chad Pennington went
18th in the 2000 draft, this guy will go in the top 15. He has
better physical ability than Pennington."
WHAT WAS HE THINKING?
Georgia coach Mark Richt isn't sure himself. His Bulldogs
trailed Auburn 24-17 with :16 to play, no timeouts and a first
down at the Tigers' one-yard line. Concerned more with getting
the one yard than with managing the clock, Richt, a former
Florida State offensive guru, called for quarterback David
Greene to hand the ball to tailback Jasper Sanks, telegraphing
the play by sending in a third running back as a blocker. "Once
it jumped out of my mouth, there was no turning back," Richt
said. "It jumped out a little quick. I knew it was the wrong
thing to do, but it was too late." Richt began frantically
signaling for Greene to spike the ball but couldn't get his
attention. Greene gave the ball to Sanks, who ran into the left
side of the line looking for a hole that never opened. Four
Tigers tackled Sanks at the line and then got up slowly enough
to prevent the Bulldogs from running another play.
Oklahoma quarterback Nate Hybl vs. Texas Tech's home crowd
Hybl has stuffed a career's worth of ups and downs into his first
year as a starter: He won the job, got hurt, lost the job and
then got it back after sophomore Jason White tore the ACL in his
left knee. Hybl has been a much better passer at home (126
completions in 193 attempts for 1,327 yards and eight touchdowns
with six interceptions) than away (40 for 88, 395, three and
two). He'll face his toughest road test in Lubbock, where the Red
Raiders are 19-5 over the last four seasons, compared with 7-14
elsewhere. In a stadium that is always loud and usually windy,
Hybl will have some bad plays. The questions are, How many, and
how will they affect the Sooners? Texas Tech has won four of its
last five, but Oklahoma should win--if it doesn't beat itself.