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Cast Changes in a Long-Running Classic : Quarterbacks Renfro, Gombos Land Lead Roles as Hart, Canyon Vie for Marquee Status

September 10, 1987|VINCE KOWALICK | Times Staff Writer

More than a nonleague season-opening football game, last year's clash between Hart and Canyon highs was the Santa Clarita Valley's answer to the Super Bowl.

Not only were they playing for two of the best teams in Southern California, Jim Bonds of Hart and Ken Sollom of Canyon were the two best quarterbacks in the Southern Section.

And they put on a passing show that will long be remembered by the 8,000 fans at College of the Canyons. Sollom threw four touchdown passes as Canyon won, 42-32, surviving a furious second-half Hart rally, led by Bonds' three touchdown passes.

"It was," Hart Coach Rick Scott remembers, "a classic."

On Friday night, almost a year later, Canyon and Hart again will open the season at Canyons before what should be a huge crowd. But with Bonds now at UCLA and Sollom at Michigan, has the rivalry disappeared?

"Aw, heck no," Scott said. "There was a rivalry before those guys got here and there's still one after they're gone."

Said Canyon Coach Harry Welch: "They were definitely the straws that stirred the drinks. But we still have the two drinks."

And the Valley still thirsts for a big game in the rivalry's big tradition. A game like Canyon's 6-3 victory in 1985. Or like Canyon's 22-21 win in 1983. A thriller.

But the match-up between Hart's Darren Renfro and Canyon's Ric Gombos is not so much a classic confrontation of quarterbacks as it is a contradiction.

Renfro is a left-handed senior, Gombos a right-handed junior.

Renfro is the first choice for the job, Gombos the second.

And Renfro is learning that he isn't better than his teammates, while Gombos is learning he isn't worse.

In appearance and style, Renfro (5-10, 160) is less like Bonds than he is a teen-age version of Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon. With a blond crew cut, white head band and sandals, all he needs is a pair of shades to stump for fast-food tacos.

"I really don't think about stepping into Jim Bonds' shoes," Renfro said. "I just feel like it's my turn."

Renfro leans back on a couch in the coaches' office, exuding a confidence that some might call cockiness.

"This is my team and they're used to my being the quarterback," Renfro said. "I don't go to practice thinking, 'This is what Jimmy played and now I'm playing it.' "

Behind him in the locker room, at a decibel level loud enough to make Scott's booming commands inaudible, the team dresses for practice to the AC/DC song "You Shook Me All Night Long." The players mirror Renfro's boldness. If mannerisms were punctuation, the Indians would be walking exclamation points.

Renfro even makes self-effacing comments with bravado.

"I'm not really the type of person who will say, 'We're going to beat you' and all that," he said. "I just think that if we stay healthy we could be a better team this year."

But the quarterback had better behave. In the past, teammates have considered shaking him by the neck.

"He had some attitude problems, like talking back to coaches," said tackle Brian Jacobs, who at 6-5, 265, could do a whole lotta shaking. "But he's starting to be a leader, not a rebel."

Renfro, who was quarterback on the sophomore team two years ago, has screamed at teammates on the practice field who he felt weren't measuring up to his standards.

"I was an ass," Renfro said bluntly. "The reason being that I wanted to win so bad. But last year, I kind of mellowed."

A stern word from Scott is usually all it takes.

"One thing Darren doesn't want to do is challenge me," Scott said. "But I wouldn't say he was a disciplinary problem. He just had a little problem with tact. I told him that rather than yelling, 'You should have caught that ball,' he could say, 'Nice try.' "

Scott, a former quarterback, understands the necessity of a take-charge attitude. And he doesn't mind his quarterback jutting his jaw.

"I like a quarterback who's a little bit saucy," Scott said. "I've always said that a quarterback has quarterback in his blood."

Scott has had no problem with Renfro's performance. After missing most of last season because of a broken thumb, Renfro is fully recovered, Scott said, and can be "frightfully accurate" with his passes.

"The thing about Bonds was that he was a Division I quarterback throwing to high school kids," Scott said. "I think six of his interceptions last year were balls that deflected off our receiver because they were thrown so hard. But Darren lays it right in there. If you drop it, it's because you've got clubs on the ends of your arms."

Scott likens Renfro to Bonds in many ways. Both, he said, are fierce competitors who won't allow teammates to be less. Bonds, however, feels that Renfro could stand some maturity.

"He's always been a kind of cocky kid who didn't show very much respect for the coaches," said Bonds, a redshirt freshman at UCLA. "I like the guy, but I know there's been some controversy with him in the past."

Renfro is confident, as usual, that he and Scott will work well together.

"I respect him and there won't be a problem," Renfro said. "And people respect me more now."

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