A few days before football practice opened this summer, Howard head coach Doug Porter was visited by two well-known athletes at the university who asked permission to try out for the team.
"I said O.K. I was glad to have them. I felt they'd be tremendous assets to us," said Porter, in his fourth season. "Neither one has played since high school but they are fine athletes and are improving every day."
The main asset Richard Massey and Reggie Sojourner have added to the Howard arsenal is blinding speed. Massey and Sojourner spent their first three years at Howard leading the Bison track team to nationwide acclaim, and themselves to the All-American lists each year.
Last season, the Howard mile-relay team with Sojourner and Massey running the third and anchor legs, respectively, finished fourth in NCAA track and field championships. They turned a 3:06.7 that afternoon, and have done a school-record 3:05.0.
Massey has run 10.3 in the 100 meters, 21.0 in 200 meters and 45.9 in his specialty, the 400 meters. The 6-foot-3, 189-pound native New Yorker registered a 44.9 split in anchoring the Bison foursome to one of its numerous mile-relay victories last track season.
Sojourner, from McKinley High in the District, has a 21.1-second 200 meters and a 46.1 for 400 meters to his credit.
The decision to put on football helmets was not a joint one, although both had made a commitment with Bill Moultrie, head track coach who does football duty coaching defensive backs, not to play and risk injury until they were seniors.
"Sure, I worry about them getting hurt now," said Moultrie, "but then you can get hurt walking down the street. They've done some wonderful things in track and still have another year left. They came in and asked me ifit was all right to play football and I said yes. I don't want to be a completely selfish coach."
Neither Massey nor Sojourner exactly walked in and turned the camp upside down.
Massey, who was a running back his sophomore and junior years at DeWitt Clinton High in New York City, is currently second-team free safety behind senior Hulon Kemp. That does not disturb the quietly confident Massey.
"It was a novelty for me," he said. "Actually I never thought much about playing the game when I came here. I really wanted to concentrate on track. I have a lot to learn but it's coming. I pick up something new every day."
Asked why he didn't try out for the position he was more familiar with, Massey matter-of-factly replied, "I'd rather do the getting than let them get me."
While the swift, smooth-striding Massey will concentrate on doing the "getting," Sojourner has elected to play split end, the position he played in high school.
"My high school career was not too good," said Sojourner, "I could play, but things just didn't work out. I don't know why.
"I only came out to see if I could still hang. Plus I want to have a little fun. I think I've had pretty good success so far. I'm pleased with my progress."
Sojourner, 6-1, 175 and a 4,4-second blur at 40 yards, is beneath Greg Scott and Darryl Dennis on the depth chart but is hopeful he'll see some action Saturday in Howard's opener against Florida A & M at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
"I'd love to play Saturday," said Sojourner, a wide smile creasing his face at the thought. "But I also know it would be my first college game and I don't have the experience."
Porter has brought the duo along slowly. "I think both will probably make the traveling team but it would be unfair to them (for me) to play them before they're ready," said the coach.
When Porter finally does beckon for Massey and Sojourner to go into the game, they mat set a record racing to the huddle.