TO MARK THE observance of yesterday's passing of yet another Letter of Intent day, here are four college football recruiting stories, all of which happened long enough ago to be safely told:
But, hey, his name was Steve . . .: When Tony Polychronis, who is now a real estate broker in Salt Lake, was working as an assistant football coach at Boise State in 1969 he was recruiting two junior college linemen from Grays Harbor J.C. in Washington."Well, one day one of them came to Boise to take his visit," says Polychronis, picking up the story. "Of the two kids, there was one we wanted real badly, and the other one we didn't really want that much. I thought this was the one we really wanted. They were both named Steve.
"So I showed this kid the campus and told him how much we wanted him. He said fine, he'd love to come to Boise State. The secretary typed up all the forms and he signed them and she put them on my desk the next day . . . It was then I realized it was the wrong kid.
"But the funny thing is," says Polychronis, "He played for us for four years and ended up being all-Big Sky Conference. We never did get the other kid. He went someplace else, and nobody ever heard about him again."
***** Uh, hello, is, uh, the, uh, coach in . . .: Back in 1974, when Bingham High School's Bruce Hardy emerged as one of America's most sought-after football recruits, an adjunct to the Hardy household in West Jordan was Tom Lovat, the brand new, just-hired head football coach at the University of Utah, who wanted Hardy to be his quarterback. Lovat was a graduate of Bingham High School himself, a fellow Miner, and one of the nicest guys to ever carry a clipboard.
Lovat did everything in his power to attract Hardy to Utah. But national powerhouse Arizona State wasn't playing around, either. When head coach Frank Kush wasn't coming by Hardy's house, Danny White was calling on the phone. And not reversing the charges.
So Hardy decided on ASU, which meant he had to break the news to Lovat. "I was only 17 years old, and I had to tell this man who had been so nice to me that I wasn't coming to Utah," says Hardy, still cringing 15 years and 11 NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins later.
"I called him on the phone. That was a very hard thing for me to do. Coach Lovat has been in the NFL (as an assistant coach) about the same time that I have been, so I've seen him a lot. And it's really been only the last few years that I've felt like it was all forgiven and forgotten."
***** Something must be wrong with this phone . . .: When Dave McKee, who is now the athletic director at Payson High School, came out of little Millard High School in 1975, he was the unquestioned best football player in Fillmore. When the Eagles played their games, McKee never left the field. He played quarterback, he played defensive back, he punted, he kicked kickoffs, and he returned punts and kickoffs. He was a Utah all-State player.
But when the recruiting wars began that winter, McKee stayed home on the farm. Nobody called. Nobody wrote. Even Southern Utah State wasn't interested.
McKee's size - 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds - was viewed as the biggest problem.
So he went to option B. He enrolled at BYU and walked on in the fall of 1976. After a year of jayvee ball, he made the varsity and got a scholarship. He wound up starting two years at cornerback for BYU, at 165 pounds.
"You know," says McKee, "In a lot of ways, I think I was a better player because I wasn't recruited. I saw guys come and go with a lot more ability and a lot better offers. But they didn't pan out. I think maybe they were expecting something that I wasn't."
***** The big one that really did get away . . .: After a visit to the University of Utah campus in August of 1966, O.J. Simpson was so taken by the grandeur of the Wasatch Mountains, and a personal relationship with U. of U. assistant football coach Ken Vierra, who had been recruiting him out of San Francisco City College, that he agreed to become a Ute that very minute.
There was only one thing left to do.
In order to fulfill NCAA requirements, the Utes had to send O.J. back home to San Francisco to officially complete his recruiting visit - after which he could return as a full-fledged member of the team.
They booked a round-trip overnight ticket, and, just to be on the safe side, sent Vierra along with Simpson - who, it should be noted, was the most sought-after junior college running back in America and who would have signed with USC directly out of high school if his grades had been good enough.
Word spread fast. No sooner had Vierra and O.J. touched down at the San Francisco airport than they were running through the terminal, dodging USC alumni and coaches, who had thought all along that Simpson was destined to be a Trojan just as soon as he got his two years of junior college academic pennance out of the way.
At 2 a.m., the phone in Vierra's hotel room rang.
"I knew what was up, immediately," says Vierra, who now operates a private club in Murray. "O.J. said he'd changed his mind, that USC was his original goal, and he was sorry, he loved Utah, but he wasn't coming. I flew back to Salt Lake City by myself the next morning and sent the suitcases he'd left in the football office back to him in San Francisco."