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Velasco Is Making Good on Conversion at CSUN : Former Burbank High Running Back Attempts to Beat Competition and Pressure as Placekicker

September 11, 1987|IRENE GARCIA | Times Staff Writer

Abo Velasco never had heard of Mike Doan before he joined the Cal State Northridge football team.

It was just another former Northridge player's name. Beyond that, it meant nothing to him.

"People mention that I have some very big shoes to fill," Velasco said. "They say Mike Doan's shoes. . . . I just hear he was a good kicker."

The freshman since has learned three major lessons:

It's difficult to kick as straight as Doan did.

It's difficult to kick as far as Doan did.

It is, indeed, difficult to live up to the standard set by Doan, a Division II All-American.

Velasco and Gary Vartanian, a senior, are waging a two-man battle to replace Doan, who wrote his name throughout the CSUN record book before completing his eligibility last season.

"It's been neck and neck," Velasco said. "The competition at practice has been real stiff."

The 5-8, 160-pound Velasco was a one-man offense at Burbank High last season. He was an All-Foothill League running back, punter and defensive back as a senior. Velasco was recruited strictly as a kicker, however.

"He's got an awful lot of ability," CSUN Coach Bob Burt said. "His leg is stronger than Gary's. The only question is, can he handle the pressure as a freshman?"

But Velasco, whose brother Alfredo is a placekicker at UCLA, is not worried about the pressure. He likes the higher intensity level in college and says practice alone has been especially competitive.

"We'll each get two kicks from the 20, then the 30, then the 40," Velasco said. "The team will be watching and yell: 'Will Abo break under pressure,' or 'Will Gary break under pressure.'

"That itself is pressure."

Velasco has won the kicking job, for now. He'll be the one boarding the plane to Idaho early this morning. The Matadors open the season with a nonconference game against Boise State on Saturday.

It was not an easy choice for Burt. He waited until after practice Wednesday to determine the only placekicker to make the trip. Burt chose Velasco because he has been more consistent at a longer range.

Vartanian says if Velasco does well in Saturday's game, he'll probably quit the team.

"If he does well there's no reason for me to stick around," Vartanian said. "Personally, I don't want to sit on the bench."

Vartanian practiced in the shadow of Doan last season, contributing only one extra point. Doan, meanwhile, set school records for most points in a season (76), most extra points in a career (58), most field goals in a season (16) and led the Western Football Conference in kicking with 76 points.

The thought of trying to unseat Velasco is more disturbing to Vartanian than replacing Doan.

"I felt more pressure trying to get the job than filling Mike's shoes," he said.

As for punting and kickoffs, Burt picked his man early. Trent Morgan, a 5-10, 170-pound junior transfer from Harbor College will handle those chores.

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