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TRADING PLACES : Saddleback's Carter, Having Been There, Can Feel for Santa Ana Quarterback Tuioti

September 18, 1987|TOM HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Neil Carter, defensive end and wide receiver at Saddleback High School, knows just what George Tuioti, quarterback at Santa Ana, experienced in the Saints' season-opening loss to Newport Harbor last week.

Tuioti's debut at quarterback--replacing Richard Fanti, who was academically ineligible to return--was sporadic at best in the 15-14 upset. Tuioti, who is also a linebacker, completed 4 of 11 passes for 127 yards, with 79 yards coming on one play.

It was only a year ago that Carter made his first start at quarterback for injured Sean Therien against Newport Harbor. And, although Saddleback won, Carter had a forgettable game, completing 2 of 14 passes and suffering a thigh bruise that ended his season.

Carter, a starting defensive end, was thrust into the quarterback position a week earlier when Therien broke his collarbone in the first quarter against University. What followed was a cram course in playing quarterback.

"I was getting a drink of water, and one of the coaches yelled at me to get into the game," Carter said. "I figured we had turned the ball over, and the defense was going back on the field.

"I got out there and the offense was still on the field, so I asked what was going on. Coach (Jerry) Witte told me Sean was hurt, and I was the quarterback. I was so nervous, Coach Witte had to call a timeout to get me to relax."

Carter had worked as Therien's backup in practice and knew most of the plays, so the adjustment to the new position was relatively easy. Carter passed for 149 yards and 2 touchdowns in three quarters against University. Who needed Therien when Carter looked so good?

"It was great," Carter said. "I liked being the leader, and I liked getting the glory. Whenever a team wins, the quarterback usually gets all the glory."

But Carter's new-found status, not to mention his season, was short-lived. He struggled the next week against Newport Harbor, and his season ended abruptly when he suffered the thigh injury.

"That was one of the worst nights of my life," he said. "We didn't lose, but I sure didn't play very well. I felt like all the weight of the team was on my shoulders.

"After that game, I started thinking that I would just as soon have Sean be the quarterback, and I'll play somewhere else."

Carter has found a new home at wide receiver. The senior caught two touchdown passes last week in the Roadrunners' 22-0 victory over Santa Ana Valley. He'll be in the starting lineup at 7:30 tonight when Saddleback meets Santa Ana in Santa Ana Stadium.

Both of Carter's touchdown receptions were perfectly timed patterns that Therien threw into the far corner of the end zone for 20 yards.

"We worked all summer on pass patterns and it paid off," Carter said. "Sean can have the glory of being the quarterback as long as I get to catch a few touchdown passes."

The quarterback apprenticeship of George Tuioti did not go as smoothly as Carter's debut at wide receiver.

Tuioti figured to have two strikes against him before he took his first snap against Newport Harbor.

For openers, he was replacing Fanti, considered the best returning option quarterback in Orange County. With Fanti in the lineup, the Saints figured to be the top-ranked team in the county.

Also, Tuioti had played quarterback in only five games since he started playing football at age 7. Granted, he was the Saints' quarterback in summer passing competition, but seven-on-seven passing drills don't compare to a game.

"Asking me to play quarterback was like asking a baby to run a 9.8 in the 100," Tuioti said. "I made too many mistakes, and I was too nervous. It didn't sink in that I was the quarterback until we walked into the stadium. But Coach (Dick) Hill thinks I'm the best athlete to play quarterback, and I'll do anything to help the team."

Tuioti said the biggest adjustment to his new position was trying to remain calm and playing under control, something he rarely does at his linebacking position.

"As a linebacker, I can run wild," he said. "I can spit and kick. But when I move to quarterback, I have to be calm and under control.

"The other night against Newport, I ran a play, got hit by one of their linebackers, and said to myself, 'Hey, I was just there making that play on defense a second ago.' It's almost like I'm playing against myself."

Tuioti's future lies at linebacker. The 6-foot 4-inch, 215-pound senior said he receives four or five letters a day from major colleges. He's going to the USC-Boston College game Saturday and said he would like to play for the Trojans.

"USC is a linebacker's school," he said.

Meanwhile, he's learning a new position under quarterback coach Tom Meiss and said the challenge has been the biggest of his athletic career.

"My dad makes fun of me," Tuioti said. "He's always asking me, 'How many linebackers hate quarterbacks and love to hit them?' Then, he laughs and says, 'And you've got to play both positions.' "

SADDLEBACK vs. SANTA ANA

RECORDS--Saddleback 1-0, Santa Ana 0-1.

THE SITE--Santa Ana Stadium.

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