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NFL'S AIR APPARENTS FLY IN FROM COUNTY : In State of Sophistication, Team of Local Players Could Keep Its Opponents at Arm's Length

October 22, 1986|MIKE DiGIOVANNA | Times Staff Writer

You could field a team of current National Football League players from Orange County, but it wouldn't have much of a defense.

Of the 24 professionals who went to high school in the county, only four--Paul Moyer, a back for the Seattle Seahawks, Brian Noble, a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, Rick DiBernardo, a linebacker for the St. Louis Cardinals, and Don Fielder, an end for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers--play defense.

But when it comes to offensive players, Orange County is the source. Five NFL quarterbacks, including Steve DeBerg of the Buccaneers and Dave Wilson of the New Orleans Saints, played high school football here.

Orange County high schools also have helped produce four NFL tight ends, including starters Hoby Brenner (Saints), six offensive linemen, including starters Keith Van Horne (Chicago Bears) and Glen Titensor (Dallas Cowboys), and two wide receivers.

Still, having only four defensive players reach the pros is nothing embarrassing. Twelve states in the U.S. can't even brag of having four high school players in the NFL.

If Orange County was a state, it would rank 19th in the nation in the number of pro players its high schools have helped produce.

California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio--traditional strongholds of high school football--top the list.

But Orange County ranks higher than all five states when population figures are considered. Based on the county's 2.1 million population, one in every 87,500 people reach the NFL.

That's a better per-capita figure than California (1 in 108,110), Texas (1 in 105,190), Florida (1 in 104,552), Pennsylvania (1 in 143,385) and Ohio (1 in 165,415).

The proliferation of offensive players from Orange County can be attributed to several factors, the most significant being the sophistication of play at county high schools.

Schools such as Edison, Fountain Valley and Servite have traditionally run pro-style offenses, with drop-back quarterbacks and multiple receivers. More and more schools have followed suit, and the county's passing records have soared to new heights.

"Southern California is different than most places in the country," said Frank Seurer, former Edison quarterback now with the Kansas City Chiefs. "I've talked to a lot of players who ran strictly veer or wishbone offenses in high school. But in Southern California, you see a lot more people throwing the ball, and pro sets with three receivers--the kind of game you play (in the NFL). Most other places grind it out on the ground."

Seurer, who led the Chargers to the 1979 Big Five Conference championship, recalled he began reading defenses--an aspect of the game most quarterbacks don't study until college.

Mark Boyer, former Edison tight end playing for the Indianapolis Colts, caught more passes in his rookie year with the Colts (25) than he did in four years at USC (24).

"I learned almost all my pass-catching skills at Edison," Boyer said. "That's where I caught almost all the balls I caught before I got to the pros."

Brenner's offense at Fullerton High, and even the one he played in at USC, wasn't nearly as sophisticated as those of some local high schools.

When Brenner was in college (1977-'81), he went to scout an Edison-Fountain Valley game and was amazed at their offenses.

"I still follow my high school, and they also developed a great passing attack," he said. "The sophistication of the passing games really promotes quarterbacks and receivers."

The weather here doesn't hurt. Southern California's comfortable climate is more conducive to passing games than an area with a lot of rain or freezing temperatures.

Moyer recalled that in two varsity seasons at Villa Park he played only one game in the rain. It's also tough for quarterbacks and receivers to feel the football in 20-degree temperatures when they're having trouble feeling their fingers.

Finally, many players credit coaching as one of the reasons Orange County has produced so many pros. Someone had to design all those sophisticated offenses.

Mike Freeman, an offensive guard with the Denver Broncos, spent his first two years of high school in Tucson, Ariz. before transferring to Fountain Valley. He couldn't believe the difference.

"We had a good team by Tucson standards, but the Fountain Valley program was 100% more organized," Freeman said. "It was almost like a college team. We had individual coaching, we worked on techniques, and we had off-season weight and conditioning programs.

"I went to the University of Arizona and met players from all over the nation, and they were shocked when they had to work out during the off-season and do conditioning year-round. But coming from Fountain Valley, I was completely prepared for all that stuff."

Many players are still applying lessons they learned in high school at the pro level. What Chris Dressel, tight end for the Houston Oilers, remembers most about his days at El Dorado is the emphasis his coach, the late Glen Hastings, placed on improving, no matter how good you were.

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