Redlands Connection is a concoction of sports memories emanating from a city that once numbered less than 20,000 people. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, from the World Cup to golf’s U.S. Open, plus NCAA Final Four connections, Tour de France cycling, major tennis, NBA and a little NHL, aquatics and quite a bit more, the sparkling little city that sits around halfway between Los Angeles and Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has its share of sports connections. – Obrey Brown
The NFL draft may be an inexact science.
Some evidence of that may have drifted through Redlands in 1978. On draft day that year, a couple of NFL teams snatched up a pair of ex-Redlanders, something that would probably never take place in today’s scientifically-enhanced draft.
Only a few years earlier, 1973, Redlands High School was a hard-core, smash-mouth, physically-pounding running team that usually finished on top of a Citrus Belt League that perennially included Ontario Chaffey High, plus Rialto Eisenhower, Fontana, maybe even Riverside Poly and Colton, or San Bernardino and Corona.
That season, 1973, fullback-type Bruce Gibson was the weapon used by the Terriers to tear opposing defenses apart.
Halfway through that season, wide receiver Brian De Roo finally made Varsity. Even at that late stage of making the team, the eternally-happy De Roo led the Terriers in pass receptions.
Redlands had been knocked out of the playoffs, but Gibson had a collegiate future awaiting him at the University of Pacific, an NCAA Division 1 team in the Central California city of Stockton.
De Roo had selected his collegiate stop at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo – perhaps about as far of a drive from Redlands as Gibson’s was to Stockton.
Landscaping would be De Roo’s choice for field of study.
“I didn’t plan on playing football,” said De Roo.
Whether you’re an insider or an outsider, it seemed as if Gibson had a more-than-likely future as a professional. Over three seasons playing in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association, Gibson racked up 2,856 yards (25 TDs), which included bouncing back from a severe leg injury that curtailed his 1976 junior season.
DeRoo had been contacted by Frank Serrao, head coach at the University of Redlands. Despite his lack of Varsity experience at Redlands High, De Roo was invited by Serrao into the Bulldogs’ highly successful football program.
An NAIA-based school without athletic scholarships, the local university wasn’t exactly a highly-regarded football institution by NFL standards.
In fact, only one player in the 111-year history of the school has ever been drafted into the NFL. That player would be De Roo.
“The ’78 draft was certainly not the spectacle it is today,” said De Roo.
It wasn’t televised. In those days, it took 12 rounds, not the seven rounds of today’s modern NFL.
De Roo had a small clue that he might go. Not just a former NAIA All-American, he made his mark as an NAIA All-American decathlete. Right around that time – the mid-1970s – the Dallas Cowboys’ scouting had been increased to judge overall athletic ability, not just football skills.
A prime example: Bob Hayes, a gold medal Olympic sprinter in 1964, was a lightning rod receiver for the Cowboys over many seasons.
Meanwhile, a De Roo teammate, Lee Joyce, knew famed agent Barry Axelrod who, at the time, was partners with the well-known Leigh Steinberg.
Said De Roo: “Barry did a bit of research for me prior to the draft and let me know that I had a chance to go between rounds six and nine.”
The draft, spread over two days, left De Roo and his family to schedule a party for the second day. On the first day, De Roo hung around Redlands’ dormitory, “just in case.”
That first day: Houston took Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell at No. 1. A couple of other future Hall of Famers: Green Bay took receiver James Lofton at No. 6 and Cleveland took tight end Ozzie Newsome at No. 23.
Meanwhile, at the Univ. Redlands dormitories in those days, only a switchboard was available on the first floor. Beepers in each room indicated students were getting a call – one beep for one roommate and two for the other.
“Then we had to run to the end of the hall to the pay phone – technology at its finest,” said De Roo, who got tired of waiting for that first day call.
“I decided to go to the track and work on some javelin,” said De Roo, a decathlete for his school during the springtime track & field season.
An hour into his javelin workout, local area sportscaster Rich Rebenstorf came running down the hill. Yelling at De Roo. The Giants had called. Wanted De Roo to return their call.
Part 2 tomorrow – De Roo gets word from “unlikely” source.