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Recruiters Give Top Defensive End a Break : Phones Fall Silent as Deadline Nears

February 05, 1987|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

The telephone has not been ringing as much as usual at Tom Lassalette's house in West Covina.

Since the end of the football season in November, the heavily recruited senior defensive end from West Covina High had been receiving as many as four phone calls a night from hopeful college coaches.

Not to mention the steady stream of recruiting letters and visits from the 25 to 30 colleges.

The 18-year-old Lassalette said his life is beginning to return to normal since he decided Sunday to attend UCLA next season. Well, as normal as it gets for a 6-4 1/2, 235-pound prep football star.

"I can go to school and do my schoolwork and not have to worry about it as much," Lassalette said. "I don't have to wait at home for people to call me. I can relax."

The 1986 Times San Gabriel Valley lineman of the year, Lassalette had taken recruiting trips to UCLA, Arizona State, Arizona and Stanford--top Pacific-10 Conference schools.

His first trips were to Arizona and Stanford. But Lassalette said his visit to UCLA two weeks ago impressed him most.

"After I made the trip to UCLA I told the other two schools that I wasn't interested," he said.

Lassalette was also strongly considering Arizona State, where he made his final recruiting visit over the weekend. But he said UCLA had something of an edge before the trip to Tempe.

"I had a little bit of an idea when I went there, but I didn't really decide until after I came back. When I came back Sunday night I sat down with my parents and we talked about everything, and I decided to pick UCLA."

He said his decision had a lot to do with the Bruin coaches.

"I liked the coaches--the way they treat their players," he said. "On the field they're players and off the field they're people."

He said he was also influenced by UCLA Coach Terry Donahue's decision to turn down a lucrative NFL offer from the Atlanta Falcons.

"It shows you something if a coach is offered all that (money) and still decides to stay at a school," he said. "It takes a lot of character to say no to that. I felt I could trust him."

Lassalette is one of several top prospects from the valley making verbal commitments before Feb. 11, the first day prep players may sign letters of intent to attend NCAA colleges.

Others include running back Ricky Ervins of Muir, who has made a verbal commitment to attend USC; running back Eric Bieniemy of Bishop Amat, who will attend Colorado; Damien running back Eric Henley and tight end Tim Winn, who have made commitments with Rice, and Ganesha defensive back Dana Hall, committed to Washington, and wide receiver Tyrone Haines, with Utah.

Ervins, a 5-10 and 180-pound speedster, was also recruited heavily by Colorado, Hawaii and UC Berkeley. However, he said playing for USC has always been a dream. "Since I can remember I always wanted to go to USC," he said.

Ervins, an excellent student, said he was also attracted by USC's business department. As a senior at Muir, Ervins was one of the most versatile backs in Southern California with 1,498 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing and 43 receptions for 546 yards and eight touchdowns.

With USC running backs in short supply, Ervins said he may have a chance for immediate playing time with the Trojans. "It's a good playing opportunity," he said. "They have only three backs returning and two are juniors."

Bieniemy, 5-8 and 190 pounds, had been considering USC, Arizona, UC Berkeley and Oregon. But Bishop Amat Coach Mark Paredes said that Colorado, which has recruited heavily in Southern California in recent years, impressed Bieniemy most.

"They're recruiting this area real hard," he said. "They're trying to make a national impact, and their recruiters are doing a good job."

Bieniemy, a two-time All-Big Five Conference selection, rushed for 2,001 yards and 28 touchdowns as a senior for the Lancers and 4,882 yards--fourth best in CIF Southern Section history--in his high school career.

The decision by Henley and Winn to attend Rice may be a little surprising considering that the team has struggled in recent years and they were also recruited strongly by Arizona, UC Berkeley, Brigham Young and Utah.

However, Damien Coach Dick Larson said the outlook at academic-rich Rice has changed since the arrival of Jerry Bernt, who guided Rice to a 4-7 record last season in his first year as coach. "They have done an excellent recruiting job," Larson said. "They have a good product to sell and a new coach who is very energetic."

Henley, 5-9 and 165, rushed for 1,388 yards and 14 touchdowns and caught 23 passes as a senior. He is expected to be shifted to wide receiver or defensive back for the Owls. Winn, 6-4 and 210, caught 36 passes for 509 yards and 7 touchdowns last season.

Ganesha's Hall, who has excellent size at 6-4 and 190 pounds and is also one of the top hurdlers in the state, had 9 interceptions and returned four for touchdowns last season. A solid hitter, Hall is expected to compete in football and track at Washington.

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