For a school such as the University of the District of Columbia, is there any better way to begin a football program than with the Dallas Cowboys' offense and the Redskins' defense? Or with four former pros with a strong sense of community as the coaches?
Well, yes there is. And the notion uppermost in the minds of head coach Ted Vactor and assistants Willie Banks. Spain Musgrove and Dick Smith is that the players who execute all those exotic formations are first and fore-most students.
"We encourage the kids to skip practice now and then if that's the way to stay solid in the classroom," said Vactor. He was watching a practice that began about 5 p.m. the other evening at Randall Recreation Center and added, "You'll notice that our team grows as the night goes on.
"But then some have to leave early, too, for evening classes." He laughed, "In the Big Eight and all those other big-time places, you don't have a class after 2 p.m. Winning games would be nice here - and it'll happen in two years or so - but that's not the important thing now."
"The point now is seeing the guys change their attitude toward people, a day-to-day thing, a show of respect that wasn't there before, a concern for their teammates. We've got lots of guys who weren't really sure what they want. We hope we can give them a direction - and a degree."
UDC draws the bulk of its 35 or so players from the academically troubled Federal City College, which one former official said "passed athletes, and then passed the athletes out of school."
"Every year there would be a maximum of 10 guys returning," said Banks, "because there was never the proper counseling. And discipline.Everyone is so spastic. They all want to do their own thing. Another year in a real disciplined-type situation, with some tradition, and I think this can be a very respectable team.
"Some of those kids didn't know how to get into a (lineman's) stance. Now they running offensive football. It means they can learn to play well and carry those lessons over into life. And the bulk of the team is freshmen and sophomores."
V actor, assistant director of atheltics at UDC and appointed head coach two games ago, is the only full-time coach. Banks is a mental-health specialist with the Department of Human Resources. Musgrove is director of the Eastern Branch Boys Club and Smith is an academic instructor at Lorton.
All of them, and especially Vactor, are able to relate to the UDC athletes, tell them from first-hand experience that the pro football dream flickers just so long - and that after it ends the player had better have something solid, like a college diploma, to fall back on. An active Redskin, middle linebacker Harold McLinton also talks often with the team.
"It's a big change from what I was used to, sure," Vactor said. "But I do enjoy it - and we're growing with the team. We know football, but we don't always know how to get it across. Sometimes I'll be talking about combos and all sorts of fancy defenses and they'll be looking at me like. 'Is this man mad?'"
If the idea of coaching began as far back as Washington (Pa.) High in the early '60s, it became a goal during his Redskin days, Vactor said. "because with George Allen you learn football. Of all the coaches, no one dissects the game like he does."
Each coach is involved with his specialty. Smith, a former runner with the offensive coordinator and former guard Banks coaches the blockers. Former tackle Musgrove instructs the defensive line and Vactor, the former cornerback, handles the overall defense.
With a full complement of players that often numbers less than 30, many players play both offense and defense. As expected, Vactor also emphasizes special teams, though the difference in college and pro rules on punt returns caused some confusion at first.
Of all the former football players throughout the land, few have shown as much promise and known as much disappointment as Vactor, whose brother. Norris, has been confined to a wheelchair for nearly 12 years because of a broken neck suffered during football practice at Parsons College.
Vactor was a gifted runner and defensive back at Nebraska whose chances for big money ended with a knee injury before his senior season. Before the injury, he figure to command the same six-figure contracts his roommates, Freeman White and Tony Jeter, did.
"I realized then that this is an extremely tough business," he said.
Vactor did get a tryout in 1966 with the Dallas Cowboys, then helped run a Job Corps program in Nebraska for nearly three years. When the program moved to Washington in '68, Vactor played with the semi-pro Virginia Sailors.
Otto Graham had promised a tryout the next year, but when Vactor went to the Redskin offices there was another coach. Vince Lombardi.
"He just shook my hand and said, 'Do you want to play football?'" Vactor said. "I said I did. He kept walking and then turned around and said, 'Good.We need football players.'"
And Vactor surived - and earned a master's degree from Howard in 1974 while running back kicks for the Redskins and caddying for Pat Fischer and Mike Bass now and then. The year he missed with a broken arm, 1974, he broke down and studied so much film he decided "I can coach anything."
At UDC, the equipment seems adequate and Vactor is pressing for more medical attention and "trying to go first class as much as the budget allows. Instead of driving up to the (away) game, getting out of the bus, playing getting right back on and coming back, we'll have good meals and stay at a motel."
UDC is 3-4 at the moment with its Division III schedule and 1-1 since Vactor was elevated to interim head coach, with promising players such as safeties Dirk Smith and Anthony Davis, cornerback Oran Young, guards Ray Cohen and Larry Ovens, receiver Ronnie Bethea, quarterback Kenny Knight and fullback Ralph Washington.
"Not everyone has that (pro) dream," Vactor said.
Nearby, quarterback Knight was drawing himself to his full height of perhaps 5-foot-8, practicing his spirals and muttering, "Wish I was about 6-1, I just can't see over them defensive linemen."