RECRUITING: Two old friends battle for Tardy

This is the story of the best running back you haven't heard of. It's also the story of two old friends -- Bill Doba and Mike Price waging a battle to convince the 5-11, 202-pound bruiser from California that their respective schools would be the best fit.

It's shaping up to be two-horse race for record setting Dwight Tardy, with Washington State and UTEP making the strongest push for the Los Angeles-area standout. In addition, a number of schools are showing late interest. Oregon, UCLA, Washington, USC, Utah and Northern Arizona are also lurking.

Tardy says WSU is his clear leader, but Price and the Miners aren't giving up without a fight, and will hope to make up ground next weekend when Tardy takes his official visit to El Paso on Dec 10. Both schools have offered scholarships.

"I'd like to visit Oregon. Utah, the coaches are (changing schools with Urban Meyer headed to Florida) but I think I'm really looking forward to Washington State. I like them a lot. They're my No. 1 choice," Tardy said this week.

Academically, Tardy is solid. He carries a near-3.0 GPA and took the SAT exam recently. "I think I did pretty great," he said.

Tardy had an in-home visit Tuesday with WSU running backs coach Kelly Skipper. "It went great, really good," said Tardy. He will trip to Pullman on Jan 14.

"I kind of have all my questions answered on (the schools). I kind of want a small, campus atmosphere. I'd like a close relationship with the professors. I'd like to find out how far are the dorms away from campus, how far is the gym, things of that nature. And just how the students and players are -- hopefully they'd welcome you with open arms."

IF YOU ENJOY reading about sleepers in the recruiting game, you'll be hard pressed to find a bigger one than Tardy.

His high school, St. Paul in tiny Santa Fe Springs, plays much of the time against schools with enrollments twice, sometimes three times, bigger. But that didn't stop Tardy from putting monster numbers this season.

He carried the ball 236 times for 2,272 yards -- 9.6 per -- with a long of 80-yards. He scored 34 rushing touchdowns. He hit paydirt a remarkable nine times in a first round playoff game, scoring on runs of five, six, seven, nine, 15, 41, 41, 46 and 62 yards. And get this -- two other TD runs were called back because of penalties.

St. Paul head man Marijon Ancich is the winningest coach in California high school history, with 339 wins to his credit. His 42 years of sideline experience includes two years as offensive coordinator at Northern Arizona and one year at Cerritos Junior College as defensive coordinator. He says Tardy is as legitimate a D-IA prospect as you'll find.

So how come schools aren't beating the door down trying to get this kid?

"I can't for the life of me understand it -- it's beyond me," said Ancich, with a rueful laugh. "And we're not playing (pushovers), we're playing the best teams in the Southern Section. But I'm not one of those guys out there hitting the street recruiting. They're all looking for those guys that run 4.2 and 4.3, which is few and far between."

The fact Tardy missed almost his entire junior season with a broken toe and broken ankle certainly didn't help in this era when colleges make large numbers of offers before kids have even enrolled for their senior years.

"Dwight works in the weight room and works at all the things you need to in this day and age," said Coach A. "He's not going to go out there and run any 4.3 -- but if you had a drill where two guys had to tackle him -- then he would obviously be one of the top guys in that camp."

And that's not to say Tardy is slow. He's clocked a 4.5 in the 40. But his value is in the combination of power and elusiveness.

"He's got the power," said Ancich. "He's got the ability to run over people. And he's got the ability to run away from them. He's got those three qualities. He can catch the ball out of the backfield and he also played the strong safety position for us -- that's exhausting. He played two ways and that's not an easy chore (in our league) for anybody."

"I break a lot of tackles. I don't think I'm overly fast but I think I have a lot of quick burst -- I have pretty good fast-twitch muscles. I think I have great vision. I have pretty good hands. And I'm a pretty coachable kid -- if a coach puts a goal in front of me, I'm very goal oriented. I'm going to go after it."

Tardy is also a top baseball prospect who could be drafted in next June's MLB Amateur Draft but should that come to pass, it appears very likely Tardy will still be on a college gridiron this coming year. His heart is in the game of football.

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