LEARNING FROM A LEGEND: Huarte talks to Carson players
College football royalty paid a visit to Carson City Monday afternoon.
John Huarte, the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, visited with the entire Carson High football program. Huarte was invited by former Notre Dame player and current CHS assistant coach Jim d’Arrieta.
The main message Huarte delivered, before taking questions from players, was about perseverance. If anybody understands it, he does. He also talked about handling adversity.
“We all try for something, and a lot of times it doesn’t happen,” Huarte said. “If you play sports, you are going to have good days and bad days. If you really want something, you have to put your heart and soul into it and stay with it.
“You have to sit back and look at the situation. You bite your lip, knowing that time passes, people get hurt and tomorrow is another day.”
After leading Mater Dei to a state title during high school, Huarte accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame. He was ready to take college football by storm. Back then, freshmen didn’t play varsity football, and Huarte missed most of his sophomore year with an injury. He managed to complete 4 of 8 passes for 38 yards. Hugh Devore took over the coaching reins in 1963, and Huarte didn’t even play enough to letter, completing 20 of 42 passes for 243 yards and one TD as the Fighting Irish struggled to a 2-7 record.
That’s where the perseverance that Huarte talked about comes in.
“I thought I should change schools,” Huarte said. “I added up the cost of my scholarship and the number of hours I played football. It came out to $23 an hour. I wanted to justify my effort. I was a pretty good quarterback and had a good arm.”
Then Huarte got a break. The Irish hired Ara Parseghian, and Huarte got a real shot to showcase his abilities.
“Spring ball went fine and I was the No. 1 quarterback,” Huarte said. “Then I jammed my shoulder into the ground during a scrimmage. It takes six weeks to get the throwing motion back. By the time practice started in late August I was healthy. Our first game we traveled to Wisconsin and beat them 32-7. I threw for about 300 yards. People were shocked because the year before we’d lost almost all our games. We beat Purdue, Navy (with Roger Stabauch), Iowa and Michigan State. We became No. 1 in the nation. We ended up starting 9-0 and then played USC. We were up 17-0 and lost 20-17.
“Notre Dame had gone the last five to seven years of not being very good. We captured the imagination of a lot of people.”
Huarte certainly captured the imagination of Heisman voters. He said that playing games on the East coast, West coast and midwest probably helped his chances. He completed 114 of 205 passes for 2,062 yards and 16 scores. In a shocking upset, Huarte won over Tulsa QB Jerry Rhome (1.026-952). Dick Butkus was a distant third with 505 points followed by QB Bob Timberlake, Notre Dame teammate Jack Snow, Auburn’s Tucker Frederickson, Cal QB Craig Morton, Tennessee linebacker Steve DeLong, Princeton’s Cosmo Iacavazzi and Wake Forest running back Brian Piccolo.
“It was unique,” Huarte said. “I’d hardly played my first three years.”
The way he heard about winning the Heisman was unique, too.
“I lived in Walsh Hall, and one morning the phone rang and my roommate went down the hall to answer it,” Huarte said. “He yelled down the hall ‘John, you won it.’”
So much for pomp and circumstance.
“The Heisman folks flew my parents and I to New York (for the ceremony),” he said. “It was first class, it really was. It wasn’t like today where the top four or five guys are invited. It was just me.”
Huarte, who as a past winner of the Heisman votes in the annual process, said he’s been at the last two Heisman presentations. He said he had the opportunity to meet the last two winners, Jameis Winston of Florida State and Johnny Manziel.
If Huarte hadn’t stuck with it, he wouldn’t have won the Heisman and he probably wouldn’t have had an NFL career. He was drafted by the New York Jets in the second round of the 1965 draft, the 12th overall pick. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him in the sixth round. He opted to sign with the Jets, who also drafted a guy by the name of Joe Namath. He was traded to the Boston Patriots and played two years there. After spending 1968 with the Eagles, he spent 1969-71 with the Kansas Çity Chiefs where he backed up Lenny Dawson. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl in 1970, and he got a nice big ring to show for it. After spending a year with Chicago in 1972, Huarte closed out his career in the World Football League with Memphis.
Now, Huarte is the owner of Arizona Tile. He employs about 650 people in 25 different stores scattered over the seven western states. He deals with a big selection of porcelain, glass, ceramics and natural stone. Huarte has traveled worldwide to secure inventory for his company. He pointed out it wasn’t his first foray into business, and that’s another thing he pointed out to the attentive players.
“I was a stockbroker and a real estate agent,” he said. “I started working with my brother, Greg, in the ceramic business. I really liked it.”