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WOODSON DEAL: On the eve of the free agency period, Dallas' Darren Woodson became the highest-paid safety in the NFL, accepting a six-year deal worth $18 million, with a $5.4 million signing bonus.Atlanta signed tackle Bob Whitfield to a five-year, $15.5 million deal, making him the NFL's highest-paid offensive lineman; tight end Mark Chmura signed a three-year contract with Green Bay that was believed to be worth between $1.3 million and $1.5 million a year; and defensive end Marvin Washington signed a four-year deal with the New York Jets that will average nearly $2.5 million and includes a $2 million signing bonus.

And cornerback Phillippi Sparks agreed to a four-year, $9.6 million contract with the New York Giants that sources said included a club-record $3 million signing bonus.

- Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge David S. Doty issued a temporary restraining order in Minneapolis that set the 1996 salary cap at $40.8 million, about $2.1 million higher than the owners wanted.

AGGIE ASSISTANT: Mike Tuiasosopop, brother of former Aggie and Los Angeles Rams player Navy Tuiasosopop, has been named Utah State's defensive line coach replacing Greg Mark, who returned to his alma mater Miami (Fal.) last week as defensive line coach under Butch Davis.

Tuiasosopo, 32, has been head coach at Berkeley (Calif.) High School for three years and was named Oakland Tribune and Alameda Newspaper Group coach of the year in 1994 after Berkeley made its first trip to the section semifinals in 25 years.

Tuiasosopopo was a four-year letterman at Pacific Lutheran and was All-Columbia Conference as a defensive lineman in '87 and '88.


ENGLISH APPOINTED: Former NBA star Alex English was appointed interim executive director of the NBA Players Association while the union continues its search for a new leader.

OAKLEY, GILL SURGERIES: New York Knicks forward Charles Oakley underwent surgery on his broken right thumb and is expected to be sidelined for six weeks. He was injured in Wednesday night's loss at Charlotte.

- And in East Rutherford, N.J., New Jersey Nets guard Kendall Gill was scheduled to have surgery today to repair a fracture in his left hand. Gill will be sidelined a month.


HAWAIIAN OPEN: Wayne Levi shot a 5-under-par 67 in driving rain and wind gusts to 40 mph to take a one-stroke lead over Jim Furyk and Scott Simpson after the first round of the Hawaiian Open.

Levi, who won the tournament 14 years ago, had his worst year in 1995, making only six of 20 cuts and earning $46,000. He used a one-time exemption based on career winnings to remain on the PGA Tour.

Brad Fabel, Jay Don Blake, Steve Stricker and Ted Tryba opened with 69s on the Waialae course.


ARBITRATION: Players increased their arbitration record to 4-0 when Jeff Fassero beat Montreal and was awarded a $2.8 million salary.

Arbitrator Robert Creo decided against the Expos' offer of $2 million to Fassero, who had a $1.5 million salary last season.

New York Mets infielder Jeff Kent settled, leaving eight players remaining in arbitration. Kent, who agreed to $1.96 million, had asked for $2,275,000 and was offered $1.5 million.


SYBASE OPEN: Pete Sampras, trying to return to No. 1 in a hurry, beat Portugal's Nuno Marques 6-1, 6-3 at the Sybase Open in San Jose, Calif.

Sampras, who will play Greg Rusedski in tonight's quarterfinals, is on course to face defending champion and top seed Andre Agassi in the final. Agassi beat Jonathan Stark 6-4, 6-4.

Auto racing

TWIN 125s: Dale Earnhardt and Ernie Irvan, already the front-row starters in Sunday's Daytona 500, won the Gatorade Twin 125-mile qualifying races.

Earnhardt held off two-time defending Daytona 500 winner Sterling Marlin in the first race and Irvan continued his comeback from near-fatal injuries by leading every lap of the second.

QUARTER MIDGET RACE: Dustin Hall, 14, of Sandy, recently won the AA Modified division of a Quarter Midget Auto Race in Phoenix, Ariz.

The cars are one-quarter replicas of full-size midget racers.

Hall, who has been racing since the age of 6, holds a number of racing titles. He has won the California Monza title three times and has won the national title twice.