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After Laboring on Line, Laguna Player Catches On : Schmitt Gets a Welcomed Reception

October 16, 1987|STEVE LOWERY | Times Staff Writer

Pete Schmitt, Laguna Beach High School tight end, caught a ball last Friday night in a game against San Clemente, and as he did, prepared to be clouted from behind as he had so many times.

But there was nothing. No hit, no defender, and then, as he turned up field, there was no sound.

"I couldn't hear a thing," he said. "I was just so shocked to see what I saw in front of me."

What lay in front was nothing. A long stretch of grass, practically devoid of players. Schmitt's pretty little acre to do with what he pleased.

For a guy who, until this season, had made a career at offensive tackle, fighting for a few feet of sod, this was almost too much to handle. He did what anyone in his situation would have done. He ran, chewing up turf like a King O' Lawn on automatic pilot.

This was all so new to him.

Schmitt is second in receptions in Orange County with 31--Laguna Hills' Brian Fleming leads with 40--but as the Artists' ball-control receiver, he runs routes that usually come down to, as he describes it, "six yards, catch the ball and get tackled."

But here he was, running down the right sideline at Laguna Beach's Guyer Field, alone, everyone watching him.

Last season, as a junior, the only people watching were horrified defensive coordinators who saw him blow defensive linemen away. At 6-feet 3-inches and 240 pounds, he could dominate physically. Add to that his unusual quickness, and it just wasn't fair.

With Schmitt opening holes, running back Jonathan Todd ran for 1,480 yards last season, second best in the county. Todd got the publicity, Schmitt was named all-Southern Section.

All of which got him a handshake from the coaching staff and a 'huh?' from the student body, which really wasn't sure what he did.

"When you play interior line, people might know who you are, but they don't know what you do," he said. "You just learn to live with that."

It seemed he would have to live with it the rest of his football career, and even outside football. Schmitt plays basketball at Laguna Beach, putting in time at the post position.

"All I do is set picks for people and hit bodies," he said.

Sound familiar?

"I averaged two points and five fouls a game."

The line was his home, one he had learned to live with, even though the neighbors can get sort of restless at times.

"There's a lot of stuff said in there, but most of the stuff is unprintable," he said. "There is this guy at Dana Hills that barks like a dog. It gets pretty wild."

But Friday, he was on the outside, running down a sideline. He said he doesn't consider himself a lineman anymore, that he likes to think of himself as a receiver.

Lyman Olney, Laguna Beach coach, said that was obvious to him from the start.

"People say you don't mess with an all-Southern Section tackle," he said. "But we threw a couple balls before the season, and you could see by the way his hands met the ball that he was meant to catch the ball."

Even so, as a defensive back attempted to stop him Friday night, it surprised even Schmitt when he did something very unlineman-like. He tried to avoid contact.

"I actually think I juked the guy," he said, still amazed after the fact. "He tried to get at me and I just sort of faked one way and went the other and left him behind. I couldn't believe it."

Olney doesn't believe it.

"Juke? He didn't juke anyone. He ran over that poor kid," Olney said.

Well, some habits are harder to break than others.

"That kid didn't have a chance against Pete," Olney said. "Imagine how scary it must be to be all alone with a guy like Pete, 6-3, 240 pounds, running right at you. Where do you hide?"

The kid found a nice spot in Schmitt's wake.

And on he ran. Another defensive back approached, and Schmitt, sticking to what he knows best, straight-armed the kid away.

The defensive back fell, and Schmitt ran into the end zone. It was his fourth touchdown of the season, but the fact that this one had gone for 47 yards made it special.

"It's the best moment so far," Schmitt said. "Things like that don't happen to you when you're on the inside."

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