Ames, Iowa A sense of foreboding pervaded the Big Eight Skywriters as their bus rumbled onto the Iowa State campus Friday.
Would coach Jim Walden, as he had in his first three seasons here, whine and complain about his lack of numbers?
Would Walden once again wail about the the NCAA's 30-95 scholarship limitations?
So weary were the Skywriters of hearing Walden's annual lamentations that they agreed on the bus that any member of the tour who breached the subject would be subject to a fine.
Imagine, then, the Skywriters' shock when Walden stood before them an hour or so later and announced, without prompting, that he had a sufficient number of players.
"We're at about 74 guys," he said. "We're all right."
SURPRISE, SURPRISE. Perhaps Walden sensed the prevailing mood of the Skywriters. More likely, though, he's been coaching long enough he's 53 to realize it's ridiculous to gripe when you have a Heisman Trophy candidate in your backfield.
That would be tailback Blaise Bryant, of course.
Bryant, despite leading the nation's junior colleges in rushing the year before, arrived here with a minimum of fanfare. Not one Skywriter, for instance, interviewed him on the '89 Tour.
Why? Two reasons. One, veteran Skywriters have seen juco running backs come and go. Mostly go. And two, nobody outside of Iowa ever pays much attention to Iowa State's recruits.
"I never have had a recruiting class that finished in the Top 100," said Walden, who was also head coach at Washington State for nine years. "Yet I've got more players in the pros I'm in the top 80 percentile anyway of any coach in the country."
THAT MAY OR may not be true, but it's indisputable that if anyone can squeeze unleaded gasoline from a stone or make chicken salad from chicken feathers, it is Walden.
How does he do it? By recruiting. That's the only way, really.
"I think this class we have now could be the best freshman class I've had since I've been a head coach," he told the Skywriters.
Naturally, that freshman class contains no nationally known impact players, just prospects that fit Walden's recruiting philosophy.
"We'll continue to recruit the kid from Holstein (Iowa) that's too skinny and too short," Walden stressed. "We've always done it that way."
Chris Pedersen isn't from Holstein. He's from Ankeny, a small town between here and Des Moines. He'll be the Cyclones' quarterback this fall, replacing Bret Oberg, the 10th-rated passer in the nation last year.
PEDERSEN THREW all of eight passes last season, yet Walden isn't worried a bit about a dropoff. "As far as skills, I don't think there's any difference between him and Bret," he said.
If Pedersen, rather large for a quarterback at 6-2, 220 pounds, is so skilled, why did only Iowa State and Northern Iowa recruit him out of high school?
"Early in his senior year," Walden said, "he sprained an ankle and he played on it when he probably shouldn't have. So he hobbled for eight weeks. Coaches don't like to see that so they go on to someone else. We were close by and we were able to look at him a little more."
Bryant, who exploded onto the national scene last year by rushing for 1,516 yards and scoring 19 touchdowns, wasn't recruited by either USC or UCLA after gaining over 1,600 yards the year before at Golden West Juco in California.
WHY DIDN'T those schools recruit him?
"I don't know," Walden smiled, "but I'm eternally grateful."
Iowa State fans are talking Heisman for Bryant in '90, but Walden has to be realistic, realizing that running backs are as fragile and susceptible to injury as thoroughbreds.
"I would be ecstatic," Walden said, "if he did what he did a year ago. That's a lot."