U Of Akron Advertises For College Quarterback

fromWKSU

University of Akron's new $61 million stadium was supposed to be its big step into big-time football. Instead, the team is 1-6, and trying to figure out how to cover for the loss of 14 players, including the starting and backup quarterbacks. A true freshman is starting, and the team had to put an ad in the student newspaper to come up with a scout-squad backup.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The University of Akron is no football powerhouse, though it has sent a few players to the NFL. This year, a new $61 million stadium replaced the Depression-era Rubber Bowl. But the season may turn on a $100 help-wanted ad in the student newspaper.

From member station WKSU, M.L. Schultze explains.

M.L. SCHULTZE: The University of Akron football season was supposed to sound like this.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SCHULTZE: And it did during the opening game on September 12. But ever since, it sounds like this.

Mr. J.D. BROOKHART (Coach, Akron Zips): Ah, a really difficult game. You know, it's not the kids. Our kids are playing hard. They're fighting.

SCHULTZE: Coach J.D. Brookhart's team is fighting a one-and-six record and the loss of 14 starters for the season. Akron Beacon Journal sportswriter Tom Gaffney says no one could have seen that coming at the home opener of Akron's gleaming new stadium.

Mr. TOM GAFFNEY (Sportswriter, Akron Beacon Journal): That day in September 12th, when they opened the stadium with Morgan State, and the dignitaries were there, and the skydivers were coming in there, and everybody - everything was fest up and exciting. You had your first starting quarterback who is in his third year. And then to see this…

SCHULTZE: This includes the help-wanted ad, the last resort in a chain of events that started when the team dismissed that starting quarterback for still undisclosed violations. Two weeks later, his backup tore a ligament. Quarterback number three had transferred out even before the season, convinced he'd never play. And that left a fourth-string freshman. And backing him up, a red-shirted freshman, a student coaching assistant, and no one to run the scout squad and practices. So Coach Brookhart put a help-wanted ad in the student paper, and accounting major and former backup high school quarterback Mark Malachin(ph) answered it.

Mr. MARK MALACHIN (Accounting Student, Akron University): I looked out and I said, this is an opportunity that can't be passed up. So I just emailed the coach and he told me to come in for an interview and then he scheduled a time to try out, and I did. Football is my first sport. It's the one I love the most, and this was an opportunity that couldn't be passed up.

SCHULTZE: So Malachin celebrated his 19th birthday this week, calling plays in a stadium that's a smaller version of some of the best in the country. He's playing the role of this week's opponent, Northern Illinois. For an Akron team so bruised, it's practicing in shorts instead of pads. The classified ad may have been a desperate act, but Coach Brookhart says it was his last option.

Mr. BROOKHART: We don't even have travel squad scholarship players right now, so we need bodies to practice.

SCHULTZE: Akron needs more than quarterback bodies. A linebacker with severe flu played the entire game against Syracuse last week. Another finished the game the week before with a broken arm. And one star has been stretched so far that he's only the second player in the nation to start at three different positions. Brookhart says that's the measure of his team.

Mr. BROOKHART: A bunch of guys played special teams positions they've never practiced. So the heart of this team, I'm very proud of.

SCHULTZE: Running back Gary Pride says Akron can't be defined only by its record.

Mr. GARY PRIDE (Running back, Akron University): No team with the nation's most go out there and just lose games and lose starting quarterbacks and, you know, other teammates. But we just want to win.

SCHULTZE: For those who worry about such things as wins and losses, they can look to the University of Akron's division one soccer team - it's undefeated and ranked number one in the country.

For NPR News, I'm M.L. Schultze in Akron, Ohio.

SIEGEL: And a football note of our own. We reported Wednesday that no members of the NFL medical committee on concussions testified before a U.S. House hearing on football-related injuries. That was incorrect. Andrew Tucker, the team doctor for the Baltimore Ravens, testified. And he's also a member of the NFL's mild traumatic brain injury committee.

Several other members of that committee have generated controversy with public statements discounting research that indicates a link between football head injuries and later brain illness. None of those committee members spoke during the hearing.

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