Almost like something out of the Twilight Zone, Notre Dame freshman tight end Andy Heck opened his locker at halftime of last season's game with Southern California and discovered the true meaning of college football.
Already inspired after catching a 23-yard pass in the second quarter to set up a touchdown, he walked into the dressing room and found the ultimate in tradition: Someone had secretly put Notre Dame's green jerseys in the lockers to be worn in the second half.
"That's what college football is all about," says Heck.
It was an especially exciting game for Heck, an All-Met player at W.T. Woodson High School, because the Fighting Irish went on to defeat the Trojans rather easily, and Heck played more than usual in his backup role at tight end.
Heck had come a long way from the first day of practice in August, when he was ninth on the depth chart and hobbled with a hamstring injury. He worked his way up as he became healthy and other players began to fall with injuries.
"I made a few good blocks," he says, "and I caught the eyes of the coaches."
Meanwhile, freshman tailback Eric Metcalf, a graduate of O'Connell High School, was making himself known to the Lone Star State, returning punts and kickoffs in exciting fashion for the Texas Longhorns. He was voted newcomer of the year by the Southwest Conference sportswriters.
The first time Metcalf touched the ball, he returned a punt 53 yards against Missouri. He thought he had a touchdown; an official said he stepped out of bounds.
"I was thinking first of catching the ball," says Metcalf of his first-game eagerness. "Then I was thinking of getting to the hole and following the wall."
While many college freshmen are redshirted their first season, Heck and Metcalf were among a handful of area high school players to have immediate impact. Although Metcalf was Texas' No. 3 tailback, he returned punts and kickoffs full-time.
Metcalf was known for making big plays. Against Rice, he caught touchdown passes for 80 and 40 yards. He had a 71-yard touchdown run against Texas Christian and a 75-yard kickoff return against Southern Methodist that fell short of the end zone.
He caught only eight passes, but for 33.4 yards per reception. He even passed once for 20 yards.
"The games were exciting," says Metcalf, son of former St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Redskins running back Terry Metcalf. "I would walk out there and there would be 80,000 people.
"The players were a lot bigger (than high school), and they hit hard. But the first time I got hit, I was fine."
Says Heck: "The biggest difference is the hitting in the secondary. And another is the intensity in practice. It's just go, go, go."
Heck vividly remembers his first game with the Fighting Irish, and what a first game it was: Michigan Stadium with upward of 105,000 fans.
"That was incredible," he says. "I went in there and was high as a kite. The band was playing. It was great."
Heck didn't play in the loss to Michigan, but he did see action in seven games, catching four passes for 160 yards. In Notre Dame's offense this season, the tight end was used primarily for blocking.
"I didn't expect to do anything," he says. "I set goals, and one of them was to make the traveling team. But it wasn't as hard as I thought it would be. I didn't let things get to me, like the first day of practice when I pulled my hamstring.
"I was pleased with the improvement in my blocking. College football is a lot different than high school. You have to stay lower and spring into the men you're blocking. And reading defenses was hard at first. I had to learn to cut off and lose a linebacker."
Metcalf thought before the season began his play was going to be limited to the special teams. "I thought I played all right," he says. "There were some things I could have done better, like blocking."
Although he is still behind tailbacks Edwin Simmons (one year remaining) and Charles Hunter (a junior next fall), Metcalf feels that could soon change. "Hopefully, I will move up. I can't say right now," he says. "Spring practice will be a good chance to show what I have."
Heck, meanwhile, is thrilled about Notre Dame's new coach, Lou Holtz, and his chances to start next season.
Of recently fired Gerry Faust, he says, "I liked the man and I respected him. But I'm not sorry to see him go. I don't think he is a bad coach, but I don't think he could win at that level. Everyone's excited about Holtz coming here.
"I am confident that I will push for a starting spot. They have a lot of confidence in me. I think I will almost be the same as everyone else, but I think my mobility will be the difference, getting loose in the secondary."
While Heck thinks the Fighting Irish will improve under Holtz, Metcalf is hoping the Longhorns can do better than the 1985 season's Bluebonnet Bowl entry.
"I was excited (about playing in a bowl game)," Metcalf says, "but then again, we wanted to go to the Cotton Bowl."