1971 Sun Imps

Imagine gifted players like All-American Todd Heap or Pac-10 freshman of the year Terrell Suggs not being to play their first year, just because they were true freshman. If both of them were playing 30 years ago, a NCAA rule would deny them that right.

Arizona State had a special nickname for its true freshmen who were unable to play under that rule – Sun Imps. "The nick name was somewhat of a tradition." recalls Bruce Thomas who was a true freshman on the Football team in 1971. Ironically, that year the NCAA decided to do away with the rule, but much to the dismay of Thomas and his fellow freshmen, the rule would only go into effect in the 1972 season. "A lot of the colleges did push to change the rule." Says Thomas "You had a lot of talented true freshmen that couldn't play because of this rule. The NCAA was concerned whether freshmen could mentally adjust to college and play in their first year. Right now you would laugh at this when you see all the high school kids skipping college to turn professional."

It seems that the only mental challenge in those days, was a true freshman dealing with the prospect that despite his capabilities, they would never see action on the field. "Even when I came in knowing the rule applies to me, I still was disappointed that I couldn't play. ASU had a great team right before I came. They were ranked 6th in the nation and Danny White was the quarterback. You're excited to play on such a good team, and you have to sit out because of the rule. I really would of enjoyed playing then." Thomas feels fortunate to have played under legendary hall of fame coach Frank Kush: You really did not have time to sit down and think about the rule. We just went out and practice, and not wonder about what if. If we didn't give our full effort, coach Kush would be on us very quick. Coach Frank Kush was tough on all players regardless of which year they were, but he was always fair with me and the other freshmen. We scrimmaged against the varsity and ran the scout team. The coaching staff never alienated us because we couldn't play. We did a lot of activities with the team, and received the same level as the rest of the team."

After being homesick, Bruce Thomas transferred out of ASU his freshmen year and played at Pasadena City College. He finished his Football career at Nevada-Reno. "I was never unhappy at ASU. I still follow ASU, and I will always be a Sun Devil." Bruce is currently trying to assemble a reunion of all the 1971 Sun Imps. If you were part of that group, or know someone else that was, please email Bruce Thomas at brucethom82@hotmail.com.

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