At 10:37 a.m. yesterday, 70-plus apprehensive bodies trudged over to the track surrounding Howard University's football field to run the "Bison Mile."
The four-lap test helped inaugurate Bison football practice but, after a 1 1/2-hour session of calisthenics and drills, the last thing the players wanted to do was stride around a cinder track wearing a helmet.
"At least, we only have to do this once a year," said one huge, sweating linesman, obviously in no hurry for his turn.
Unfortunately for him the linemen were called to the gate first, and in no way did any of the hulking trotters resemble track stars.
"This is just to see what kind of shape the players are in," said Bison head coach Doug Porter, starting his fourth season. "We want everybody to finish in less than eight minutes, but if they don't, we won't ask them to do it over."
Actually, only one player, tackle Michael Tarver (6-foot-, 2 255) would have had to run again. The sophomore opened up in the final 50 yards and, to the clapping and cheering of his teammates, dashed across the line in 8:10.
"That's as fast as he's going to go but, oh, he's strong," said Porter.
Center Dan Ambrose led the linemen with a time of 5:52. Quarterback Ronald Wilson surprised everyone in posting the fastest time, 5:20. Most of the betting money was on Bison track star Richard Massey, a world class quarter-miler, and sprinter Reggie Sojourner, both trying out for football for the first time.
Actually, Massey needed a final-lap surge to beat safety Theodore Robinson, who had won the Bison Mile the last two years. Massey's time was 5:35.
Before the session-ending race, porter's face showed confidence but apprehension as he walked from one end of the field to the other watching his troops work out.
"Do it a thousand times," said Porter to his trio of quarterbacks. "You aren't taking that big step away from the center. You're shuffling your feet. Do it again."
If the Bison are to battle South Carolina State, Morgan State and North Carolina A&T for Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title honors, Porter must settle on a quaterback soon. A stellar group of returnees at other positions, 18 of whom started most of the season, has Porter thinking optimistically.
"This is the most talented bunch I've had since I've been here. We have a lot of young kids who'll be playing for us," said Porter. "We had a good spring and they reported in good shape. I'm pleased so far."
Porter may feel even better after watching the freshmen work out. Several of the new recruits, who did not work out yesterday morning because of freshman orientation, are expected to play major roles for the Bison this year.
One position at which Porter needs help is at linebacker. Dana Cunningham and Jeff Spencer, two stalwarts last season, will not play this year.
"Spencer decided to concentrate in his field (engineering) and Cunningham is academically ineligible for football this year," said Porter. "But we have gnod kids there and there shouldn't be any dropout in talent."
Porter's teams finished 8-2-1 and 8-3 before tumbling to 5-5-1 last year.
"We weren't satisfied with some areas of our play last year and we have to take the blame for that," said Porter. "We're going back to simpler plays. I'm also going to coordinate the defense this year. I've made changes and rewimped the entire unit so if it goes down the drain, I'll go with it."
Porter will miss today's practice because he is going to a press conference in East Rutherford, N.J., to help publicize the season opener against Florida A&M at Giants Stadium, Sept. 10.