Ronnie Hawkins may run his fingertips over the black-and-white pictures of his lost glory in uniform, calling back the memory of his seasons as a fullback and linebacker at Coolidge High School, but unless something very near miraculous happens in Friday night's D.C. Coaches All-Star Game at RFK Stadium, Hawkins may never bring back the game it appears he's doomed to lose.
"I assumed there would be college coaches at the game," said Hawkins, who has no college grant-in-aid. "Hopefully, some of the coaches will hear about me since they can't be in the stadium. Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to play college football. I still think I can play. I just want the chance. But I don't know what'll happen now with this new deal."
"This new deal" is a year-old NCAA rule. Until last year, college coaches determined to add last-minute bulk to their rosters went to RFK Stadium to reevaluate players with hopes of spotting that rare nugget somehow overlooked during regular season. Now the game is off-limits to college staff.
The rule hurts the athlete, high school coaches like Coolidge's Chris Bullock and H.D. Woodson's Bob Headen protest. A majority of college coaches, however, voted in favor of the rule declaring July a "dead period." "Dead" would also best describe that college program which waits until a midsummer all-star game to fill open spots on its roster. With each school limited to 30 scholarships each year and with competition among colleges to sign high schools' best as fierce as a dogfight at high noon, who can question Virginia's George Welsh's remark that "something's not quite right" if a scholarship offer comes that late in the year?
The sun the past few weeks has been a blister, and it seems good sense alone would keep anybody from running into heavy things and tumbling round on the white, hot earth. But there are two all-star teams composed of capital high school talent who brave this summer heat and prepare for what may be the last of their days in the sunshine. Of the 42 members on the West squad, working out at Coolidge in Northwest, 26 are unsigned. Twenty of the 43 East players practicing three hours a day at Kenilworth Park do not have scholarships.
Hawkins, who will start for the West, lettered three years at Coolidge, was the team captain and made all-Interhigh. His B average indicates he is prepared for the college classroom, but, at 5 feet 9 and 210 pounds, his size is suspect for their football programs. Although Bowie State and Central State in Ohio expressed interest in having him walk on, Hawkins will have to work through school to make ends meet. This summer, he's working as a biology lab assistant at UDC. "There's no telling what kind of work I'll be doing in the fall if I don't get my scholarship," he said.
Bullock, the coach at Coolidge who played in the all-star game 10 years ago after signing with Howard, said he is mystified that "it's come to this for Ronnie."
"Like most of the kids out there," Bullock said, "Ronnie knows this may be his last football game, but we're trying not to think that way. I tell him good things come to those who wait. He could try out as a walk-on if he doesn't get a scholarship. It's just a much tougher road."
From the first day of practice, most college walk-ons are relegated to positions on the scout squad, where they languish in a dreamer's purgatory, caught somewhere between the starter's heaven and the water boy's hell. Most of their practice time is spent holding dummies against an unsympathetic varsity charge and trying to figure out exactly how and when they should go about getting a coach's attention. Certainly, the walk-on who survives this brutal nonbeing and earns a scholarship and a spot on the squad is an exception to the majority who eventually give up and brood over long, lost high school seasons.
According to Headen, coach of the East squad, Herbert White "is one of about 15 guys on our team who'll be hurt by this very dumb rule," keeping college coaches out of RFK. White, a wide receiver who plans to study computer science in college, graduated with a 3.6 grade-point average and was all-Interhigh. When eight of his teammates at Woodson signed with Morgan State, White said he felt "a little left out."
Nathaniel Cary, a ball-carrier who will start in Friday's game, stole most of the thunder by running all over and around people. With Woodson's solid ground game, focus centered on Cary; White, whose 4.9 speed at 40 yards was unimpressive to college recruiters, didn't get a chance "to show off my hands."
"I wish the scouts could be there to see me play," said White, one of 13 Woodson graduates on the East roster. "I keep hoping that maybe some alumni'll take note of the way I play and get word to the coaches."