Towson is jewel in otherwise mediocre local football season

November 23, 1993|By Bill Tanton

This hasn't been much of a football season for college teams in and around Baltimore.

Morgan State was 2-9 and has just concluded its 14th straight losing season. Johns Hopkins, which expected a big year, lost four of its last five games and finished 4-6, the first losing season in four under coach Jim Margraff.

Maryland was life and death to beat ACC last-place finisher Wake Forest by a point on the last play of the season. In year No. 2 under Mark Duffner, the Terps won two games -- one less than a year ago.

Navy, 4-6 despite a schedule tailored for success, stopped playing at halftime of the Notre Dame game. Presumably the Middies will crank it up again for Army in two weeks.

There's one real success story, however. That's Towson State.

The Tigers beat Delaware, Bucknell and Morgan State down the stretch and finished with an 8-2 record.

That's a remarkable accomplishment, even though the NCAA chose not to recognize it by admitting Towson to the 16-team field in the Division I-AA championship tournament.

Towson certainly would have been a worthy participant, especially since the selection committee chose five teams with three losses, including Delaware -- a 32-30 loser to Towson.

"It's a great disappointment to all of us," Towson's second-year coach Gordy Combs was saying at lunchtime yesterday as he prepared to lift a few weights. "I treated it like a loss. I was mad for a day, but there's nothing we can do about it now. So you move on."

One Towsonite who'll be moving on is senior running back Tony Vinson. If you missed him, you missed something.

Vinson played only two years here after transferring from Purdue, yet he finished his career with 15 Towson State records and 11 NCAA Division I-AA records.

This year Vinson won the Division I-AA triple crown. He led in rushing with 201.6 yards per game, all-purpose yards with 207.3 per game, and scoring with 14.4 points per game.

Vinson weighs 227, outruns free safeties in the open field and can run over tacklers. With his extraordinary combination of size and speed, he reminds me of Jim Brown, who was merely the best running back I've ever seen.

NFL teams are interested in Vinson, of course. After the New York Giants sent two scouts to look at him, the team's general manager, George Young, came to the Bucknell game for a personal look.

Vinson's next appearance in a football suit will come in a postseason all-star game, either the Blue-Grey Game or the Senior Bowl. All 28 NFL teams will see him then.

"That'll be a good opportunity for Tony," Combs was saying. "It certainly helped [Towson's] Dave Meggett [now with the Giants] when he had a lot of success in the Senior Bowl in 1988.

"I think Tony Vinson can be an everyday runner in the NFL. He has a great chance to win the Walter Payton Award."

The Payton Award, awarded annually to the top player in Division I-AA, was won by Meggett five years ago. Vinson has broken many of the records set by Meggett.

Another member of the Towson football family who could be moving on is coach Combs himself.

Don't get excited. He hasn't received any offers. He's not about to pick up the phone and apply anywhere. He's not disenchanted where he is. But common sense tells you that Combs is regarded as a hot coaching prospect.

Remember, Towson nearly dropped football four years ago. When Phil Albert stepped down as coach after a 1-10 season in '91, he felt sorry for the longtime assistant -- Combs -- who succeeded him.

"It's really going to be tough for Gordy," said Albert, who held the job for 20 years. "There are no scholarships any more. Everyone knows Towson came that close to dropping football. That can't help recruiting. Plus he has some of the best I-AA teams in the country on his schedule."

Combs didn't flinch. He went 5-5 that first year, 8-2 this year, all the while fielding one of the most potent offenses in the nation.

"If somebody wants to talk to me, I'll listen," Combs, 43, said yesterday. "It would have to be an ideal job. It would have to be a step up. Not too far away from Baltimore.

"My son, Buggs, is a sophomore at Calvert Hall. He holds extra points for the football team. My daughter, Meredith, is a sophomore at Maryland. If I ever left here it would be a family decision.

"But I'm not going to apply anywhere. That's not the way it works at this level. They have to call you."

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