Seven years of college down the drain? Perhaps for John "Bluto" Blutarsky, the lovable clod John Belushi portrayed in the film "Animal House." But not for Toledo guard Mike Lenix, a seventh-year senior who has battled an almost unimaginable series of injuries to play his fourth, and final, season.
"As these [injuries] were mounting, you would think he'd say, `Football is not right for me'," Toledo Coach Gary Pinkel said. "But that's never crossed his mind. You've got to admire and respect that. . . . He keeps coming back. You can't keep him down."
As a freshman in 1993, Lenix suffered heatstroke during a practice and almost died. Later that year, in which he was redshirted, he got food poisoning.
In 1994, Lenix tore an anterior cruciate ligament and needed reconstructive surgery. He then developed a staph infection from that surgery and needed six operations to clean out the infection, losing 60 pounds in the process.
After missing all of the 1994 and 1995 seasons, Lenix played one game in 1996 after bulking up with intensive weight training. He successfully petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility because of medical hardship, and was surprised to be awarded a seventh, as well.
He started all 12 games in 1997 and played in all 12 of Toledo's games last season, starting four. Unknown to him, though, was he played the entire 1998 season with a ruptured disk in his back. The resulting surgery caused him to miss this season's spring drills.
"He is just one of those guys with a Rolodex full of injuries," Pinkel said.
Most people would have given up long ago, but Lenix will share time at guard for the Rockets this season.
"Basically, I've learned not to quit anything I've started," he said.
Lenix is pursuing a dual major in physical education and health and hopes to get his master's degree in special education. He also counsels his injured teammates.
"I just got done talking to [tackle Brett Sessions], who went down with a knee injury," Lenix said. "I told him that I've had six surgeries on my knee and that if I can make it back, he can get through it."
Sharing a Stadium
For a school to upgrade from Division I-AA to I-A, it must have a stadium that seats at least 30,000 and must average at least 17,000 per home game. This posed a big problem for Idaho, which has moved to I-A but whose home field is the 16,000-seat Kibbie Dome. As a solution, the school made a five-year deal to play its home games at Washington State's 37,600-seat Martin Stadium in Pullman, about 10 miles from Idaho's campus in Moscow. In fact, when Idaho and Washington State meet Saturday, Idaho will be the "home" team. There also will be a doubleheader Oct. 10, when the Cougars play Louisiana-Lafayette (formerly Southwestern Louisiana) at 1 p.m., and the Vandals meet North Texas at 6. . . .
And speaking of the Cougars, things have been horrible since Ryan Leaf led them to the Rose Bowl during the 1997 season. They have lost 10 consecutive games, one shy of tying the school record, set in 1970 and '71.
Life has been imitating the movie "Rudy" for Illinois center Brian Scott and Michigan place kicker Jeff Del Verne. Scott, a fifth-year senior, walked on at Illinois and was put on the scout team. Hindered by a broken knee in 1996 and a broken arm last spring, Scott thought he never would play. But Coach Ron Turner rewarded Scott's determination with a scholarship before this season started, and Scott played in the Illini's opener against Arkansas State. This week, he is listed as the second-team center, behind Luke Butkus, the nephew of Hall of Famer Dick Butkus.
Del Verne, a junior, walked on at Michigan after declining scholarships from several Mid-American Conference schools. After he kicked four field goals in a season-opening victory over Notre Dame, Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr gave him a scholarship. He responded by making all three of his field goal tries in a 37-3 victory over Rice Saturday.
The early contender for questionable coaching move of the season goes to Baylor's Kevin Steele. Leading UNLV, 24-21, Saturday with 20 seconds to play, UNLV out of timeouts and the ball on UNLV's 8-yard line, the Bears simply had to take a knee to end the game. Instead, the Bears tried to score another touchdown. Running back Darrell Bush was hit at the 1 and fumbled. UNLV's Kevin Thomas scooped up the ball and ran untouched 99 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown as time expired.
"We were trying to create an attitude of toughness, and we tried to hammer it in," Steele told reporters after the game. ". . . It was an expensive mistake."
Coming in a close second to Baylor in this department is Lambuth, an NAIA school that lost to Tennessee-Martin in overtime last week. Lambuth had the first possession of overtime but failed to score on a fake field goal. On fourth and inches. From inside the 1. Tennessee-Martin proceeded to end the game with a touchdown.
Special special-teams play: Tennessee State tied a Division I-AA record by blocking four kicks (an extra point, two field goals and a punt) in its season opener against Alabama State, then set another mark last week by totaling 351 yards in kick returns (325 on six kickoffs) against Jackson State. Not-so-special special-teams play: Northwestern State was penalized twice for illegal formation on kicking situations, one negating a 37-yard field goal, last week in a 40-6 loss to Southern Mississippi, The Demons also lost an onside kick and had two field goals and an extra point blocked.. . .
Coach Doug Williams might have something going at Grambling. The Tigers are 2-0 going into a key contest with No. 24 Jackson State Saturday. . . . Louisville, which ranked 110th in the nation in rushing defense last season, has given up minus-27 rushing yards in two games this season, against Kentucky and Chattanooga. . . . Minnesota hasn't allowed a score in 26 consecutive possessions. . . . Vanderbilt, which plays in the mighty Southeastern Conference, trailed Northern Illinois, 28-3, early in the third quarter last week before winning, 34-31. It was the largest comeback in Vanderbilt history, but Northern Illinois had lost 36 of 39 games. . . . Western Kentucky safety Bobby Sippio returned two punts and an interception for touchdowns last week against Cumberland. The second punt return and the interception return came on consecutive plays from scrimmage.