The history of PSU sports

Portland State athletics has had a storied history since its inception into Division II sports in 1963. PSU has had some exciting teams and players go through the Park Blocks, including Freeman Williams, Neil Lomax, Lynda Johnson, Kim Manifesto and three national championship-winning volleyball teams in the 1980s.

Portland State athletics has had a storied history since its inception into Division II sports in 1963. PSU has had some exciting teams and players go through the Park Blocks, including Freeman Williams, Neil Lomax, Lynda Johnson, Kim Manifesto and three national championship-winning volleyball teams in the 1980s. To celebrate the Vanguard’s 60th anniversary, we take a look back at the best players, coaches and teams that PSU has had to offer over the years.

The best Portland State has to offer

You can’t say Portland State athletics without the name Neil Lomax. The hometown product from Lake Oswego High School is best known for racking up incredible numbers in head coach Darrel “Mouse” Davis’ run-and-shoot offense and his multiple Pro Bowl appearances in the NFL. But it is virtually unknown that his storybook career was close to never happening, as Lomax had trouble being recruited.

“His high school didn’t have a passing game, mostly a ground attack. So, he slipped through the cracks. Mouse Davis already had three quarterbacks recruited, but the third went by the wayside. So, Mouse met Neil for lunch, and that was that. Neil started his freshman year as fifth on the depth chart. He got his chance in the fifth game that season, and was the starter the rest of the way,” said longtime Sports Information Director Larry Sellers.

Lomax’s play can be summed up in one word-exciting. He passed for an all-time NCAA mark of 13,220 yards and 106 touchdowns wearing the Viking green, and was voted a First-team Division I-AA All-American in 1978 and 1980. During one game he had seven touchdowns in one quarter. His strong arm and big-play ability brought him from a player overlooked by colleges in his own backyard to seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1980. In the NFL, Lomax played for nine years and made it to the Pro Bowl twice (1984 and 1987). In ’87, Lomax had his best year passing for 4,614 yards with a 61.6 completion percentage, 31 touchdowns and 16 picks.

If Lomax’s arm made him a superstar on the gridiron, it was Freeman Williams’ silky smooth jump shot that made him an absolute god on the hardwood.

“Freeman didn’t hit shots that would bounce around the rim. Everything he made was a swish. He was a pure shooter if there ever was one,” said interim Athletic Director Teri Mariani.

Williams was the NCAA Division I scoring leader in 1977 and 1978 with 38.8 and 35.9 points per game respectively. His scoring act led him to three of the top 10 highest scoring games in NCAA history, including the second highest of 81 points. Portland State’s all-time leading scorer also represented the U.S. at the World Games in 1977. In the NBA Williams only played for six seasons. In his best season, in 1980, he scored 19.3 points per game along with two assists per game for the San Diego Clippers.

At the net, no one dominated the volleyball court like Lynda Johnson and Leanne Peters. At the conclusion of their careers, they were the only four-time NCAA Division II Volleyball All-Americans in history. Johnson had her share of hardware, leading the Vikings to National Championships in 1984 and 1985. While Peters hoisted the National Championship plaque once in 1992, she holds the distinction of never missing a match, playing in 158 straight.

Other athletes who wore the Viking logo with pride include four-time Division II National Champion wrestler Dan Russell, brothers Charlie and Willie Stoudamire, who starred on an up-tempo Viking basketball team that averaged a school record 99.2 points per game, and Kim Manifesto, the lone Viking who has recorded a tripe-double in women’s basketball.

The personalities on the sidelines

Darrel “Mouse” Davis and Ernest “Pokey” Allen, two football coaches famous for their nicknames, are legends in the football halls of PSU.

In Davis’ six seasons at Portland State, he enjoyed moderate success with a combined 42-24 record. While he won his share of games with his high-scoring, run-and-shoot offense, Davis put his stamp on the program by being the first to lead Portland State to an eight-win season. He accomplished this on three occasions and put Portland State on the map as a legitimate winner.

Allen led the Vikings to five playoff appearances in seven years with an explosive offensive game plan. Allen’s crowning achievement came in 1987-88 when his squads battled in back-to-back Division II Championship games, losing to Troy State and North Dakota State respectively.

Greg Bruce was another coach who tasted success on the sidelines at Portland State. Behind Bruce, the Vikings women’s basketball team reeled off eight straight winning seasons after 1988. His teams were notorious for a quick-paced, electrifying offensive attack that took the Vikings all the way to the 1991-92 Division II Final Four and a second place finish in 1995.

“During the late ’80s and early ’90s, Greg had some very exciting teams to watch. They scored a lot of points. We were always among the national leaders in both points scored and shooting percentage. Those were some awesome, awesome teams,” said Mariani.

While Davis, Allen and Bruce were all personalities of the past, arguably Portland State’s most successful coach still calls campus home. Jeff Mozzochi has been a mainstay on the Park Blocks for many years, building the volleyball program, winning championships and now in the final stages of rebuilding the program again. Following the lead of their always-prepared, composed coach, the Vikings were crowned Division II Champions four times, including 1984, 1985, 1988 and 1992.

Throughout the years, Portland State has seen a rich crop of figures at the helm, including the great Teri Mariani, who called the shots in the softball dugout for 29 years, recently retired wrestling coach Marlin Grahn, responsible for two national championships and four regional championships in his 22 years, and the most winning men’s basketball coach in Portland State history, Sharkey Nelson.

Celebrating the finest Viking squads

“It seems like every sport we have here at Portland State has had success in its own era,” said Assistant Athletic Director of Media Relations Mike Lund.

Over the past two decades, Viking football has been a model of consistency behind Allen and current head coach Tim Walsh. During this era, the team has competed for two Division II National Championships and solidified itself as a force in Division I after joining the Big Sky Conference in 1996-97.

“If you take out the first three years of playing in Division I, where we were trying to go from 30 scholarships to 60 and playing teams with twice as many, we have only really had one losing season in the last 20 years,” said Lund.

Mozzochi’s volleyball squads’ era of success came during the 1980s and early ’90s. This period is statistically the most successful of any team in Portland State history as Mozzochi’s high-flying volleyball teams hoisted the Division II National Championship on four occasions. After a break from championship aspirations, Mozzochi now has his program in position to taste the sweet flavor again as they have finished second in the Big Sky over the past two seasons.

Although men’s basketball has had recent success, crowned Big Sky champions in 2005, its best years were in the 1950s and ’60s under well-known coach Sharkey Nelson where they won three Oregon Collegiate Conference titles.

On the women’s side, it’s most successful era was with basketball coach Greg Bruce at the helm from 1986-96. With Bruce roaming the sidelines, the Vikings had their first winning season in 1988 and continued their winning ways, capturing five Pacific West Conference titles and making five playoff appearances.

Finally led by coach Marlin Grahn and four-time National Champion wrestler Dan Russell, wrestling peaked in the 1980s and ’90s, securing two consecutive Division II National Championships from 1988-90.

The history at PSU is rich and filled with stunning wins and impressive individuals. The new era as Division I-AA competitors could bring success in any of the sports offered at PSU, but the Vikings will be remembered and recognized as a storied program that has been able to flourish even in the shadow of the other Oregon universities.