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Q&A: Tony Cherico, Part 3

Hog fans who followed the football team in the 1980s no doubt have great memories of watching Tony Chercio, the undersized but tenacious noseguard who starred for Coach Ken Hatfield from 1984 to 1987. Cherico, who was an All-American in his senior season and a three-time member of the All-Southwest-Conference team, finished his Razorback career with 258 tackles and 26 tackles for loss. He is now a defensive line coach for the legendary Barry Lunney Sr. at Bentonville High School in northwest Arkansas. In today's installment (here's part 1 and here's part 2), Tony discusses the most impressive players he played with and against, and his recalls Agnes, his pet boa constrictor.

Expats: As far as opposing players, who sticks out as the most impressive, whether it was an individual match-up or somebody who may have been on the opposite side of the field, but awed you with their talent?

Cherico: That's a great question. Back in those days of the Southwest Conference, there were a lot of great players.

I remember my first year in the bowl game at the Liberty Bowl, playing Bo Jackson. He had about 50 yards rushing. We kept him contained. The fullback ripped us a new one, but there's one particular play [by Jackson] I will never forget. They're running a pitch play, some option outside, and I'm running down the line of scrimmage.

I kind of put my head down for a second because I'm coming out of the block. I look up thinking that the back's going to be right here but heck - that man's 10 yards down field already. I said, "I've never seen a man move like that." He stuck out.

My freshman year, Texas they had an offensive center - Gene Chilton. They called him "Gene, Gene, the Coke Machine." Gene was probably 6'5", 305 pounds. He was one of the first 300 pounders.

He got down, he looked like he had four legs on the ground. His arms were so flippin' big. At that time, I was weighing a whopping 225 pounds. I was giving 80 pounds up to this guy. I'm going, "Oh my god." The good thing about it was that he was so big that he didn't move that fast.

I guess the most dominant player that I ever actually played against - it was kind of funny - he was a center on Tulsa. He's a school superintendent now. He was shorter than me, the only guy that I ever played against that was shorter than me. He was about 5'11", maybe about 255 pounds.

I looked at him, and I was licking my chops. I said, "This is going to be a cakewalk." The first time they snapped the ball, I take a step, and this guy's already by me. I'd never played against a guy quicker than me.

The next play's a pass play. I go to rush him. He snaps the ball, brings one hand up - I had no idea how strong he was. He brought his hand up and hit me in the face mask, and it snapped all four buckles off my face mask. I said, "Oh my."

I played against numerous All-American centers and offensive lineman - nothing compared to this little guy. And the sad thing was, I had to play against the guy the next year. Now, I was ready for him the next time that I played against him. We got to be friends afterwards. He was probably the most imposing player.

Now guys on our team, I'll never forget Steve Atwater. When we first brought Steve in, he was a quarterback. We brought him in from East St. Louis.

We put him on defense, and he was afraid to hit at first. But after that first year, the rest was history. That man - he'd bring the wood.

Quinn Grovey - everyone talks about how great of a quarterback he was. Quinn was our scout team quarterback the first year that he got there. We hated him. He made us look sick. We were so happy when they finally took him on [the first unit]. Our defense used to give him a lot of credit for making us better because we could never hit him. He was so quick.

Wayne Martin - I had the opportunity to play with him, and he ended up playing for the Saints for 10 years. He was just a stringbean when he got to Arkansas, and then his senior year, he ended up being the Southwest Conference Defensive Player of the Year. I played two years with him and had a blast playing with him.

Expats: We hear that there was an interesting story about you trying to sneak your pet boa constrictor on the team plane. Is this ringing a bell?

Cherico: Oh yeah. Agnes [the snake] was legendary up there. We were going to take her on the road with us one time, but we decided that we weren't going to be able to get it through baggage check and all that.

The law was laid down by Coach Hatfield. Everything was fine until he found out about it, that we had the snake. So he kind of put the hiatus on that, and she kind of had to go into hiding there for a long time.