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This is one of those sad, what-might-have-been stories.

In August, 1978, USC welcomed a freshman football class that featured Arthur Hemingway, a promising fullback from Oceanside High.

But Hemingway, who died last week at the age of 49, saw his career ended before it ever began. He was severely disabled when he was struck by a car while standing on a sidewalk near the Los Angeles campus the first week of practice. He was hit by a 17-year-old driver fleeing police.

But to say Hemingway was a promising fullback doesn’t begin to tell the story of his potential.

He was part of a 1978 USC recruiting class that included Marcus Allen, the Lincoln High alum that went on to win the Heisman Trophy, NFL MVP Award and Super Bowl MVP Award.

Other future NFL greats in the class were Chip Banks, Riki Gray Ellison and Roy Foster.

Yet 30-plus years later, then-USC coach John Robinson still says this about Hemingway:

“He was one of the brightest prospects we recruited,” Robinson said. “He was a great-looking kid and a real leader at his school. He had a devastating smile.”

Robinson said the Trojans envisioned Hemingway, a Samoan, succeeding graduated Mosi Tatupu, who was a Samoan fullback at USC.

This was a time when Samoans from Hawaii and California were making an impact on college football in larger numbers and clearing the way for future Samoan stars. Tatupu went on to play 14 NFL seasons.

“Arthur’s potential was unlimited,” Robinson said. “I thought he was going to have a great career for us. I was so impressed by the guy.”

The loss of Hemingway left the Trojans with a fullback the next year, and Robinson filled the hole by switching Marcus Allen, who was recruited as a safety, to fullback.

Allen spent his sophomore year clearing the way for 1979 Heisman Trophy winner Charles White, and has said that experience as a blocker helped him develop as an all-around football player.

When White graduated, Allen moved to tailback the next two seasons, and won the Heisman as a senior in 1981.

Robinson said had fate not intervened, Hemingway could have been the fullback for two Heisman Trophy winners — White and Allen — before starting his own NFL career.

“Absolutely, there’s no question,” Robinson said. “Arthur was a little taller than Mosi, and he was very athletic. He could have played some tailback for us, too. He had the ability to be a blocker, runner and receiver.”

Hemingway would ultimately undergo 20 surgeries, including brain surgery twice. He needed a wheelchair or motorized cart to get around, but he returned to USC at the age of 30. The school paid for his education and he earned a bachelor’s degree in English and master’s degree in education.

He remained a dedicated USC fan that attended many games. He also stayed involved with North County high school football, working with the football coaching staffs at Oceanside and Rancho Buena Vista.

“It was really a shame,” Robinson said. “I think he had only been with us three days when he got hit. He came in with a talented group, and he was right there with them.”

— TOM SHANAHAN

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