When Curtis Conway played Pop Warner football in Inglewood, little did he know that some day he would be compared to an older neighborhood star.
Conway is not the least bit surprised anymore. The quarterback for Hawthorne High School believes any comparisons to Jamelle Holieway of Oklahoma University just come naturally.
"I grew up to idolize him," he said of his boyhood hero. "But I wasn't trying to be like him."
Several coaches have noticed similarities between Conway, a talented junior, and Holieway, the former Banning High standout who earlier this season summed up his strength as an option quarterback by declaring: "Fakin' be the baddest part of my game."
In so many words, that's the way opponents view Conway.
"I don't remember seeing anyone around here like him except for Holieway," said Palos Verdes Coach Bill Judy. "I haven't run up against anybody who comes close to him. His running ability is so fantastic."
When it comes to speed, Conway has few peers. He is the No. 1 sprinter on Hawthorne's state champion track team, with a personal best of 10.6 seconds in the 100 meters. On the football field, he uses his maneuverability to frustrate tacklers and buy time for his receivers. The 6-foot-2, 175-pounder has either run or passed for 29 of Hawthorne's 32 touchdowns this season.
"His tools are his speed and what he does in putting pressure on the defense with his scrambling ability," said Mark Knox, a co-coach at West Torrance. "A lot of his touchdown passes are the result of him scrambling around and the coverage breaking down. He gives them an added dimension."
Conway, who has accounted for 1,472 yards in total offense this season, figures to play a key role tonight in Hawthorne's bid for the Ocean League title. The Cougars (3-1) need a win over visiting Santa Monica (4-0) to force a tie for first place. Hawthorne is 7-1-1 overall.
In Conway's three years as a Cougar quarterback--one year on the freshmen team and two on the varsity--his teams have a combined record of 24-5-2.
"He's the catalyst on that team," said Dick Lascola, director of the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn. "For a young man, he's poised and runs well. He's going to be fun to watch next year when he's a senior."
Lascola, whose scouting service is concentrating on seniors, said he couldn't compare Conway with Holieway yet. However, there are coaches who already think the Hawthorne star is well-suited for a Sooner uniform.
"I think he's an Oklahoma-type guy," said South Torrance Coach Joe Austin. "They'll probably go after him. He's only a junior. He could play tailback. He could play receiver--any place he wants to."
Hawthorne has utilized Conway's versatility, using him at quarterback, tailback, wide receiver and defensive back. Coach Goy Casillas first played Conway at tailback in a 49-26 win over Inglewood on Oct. 23.
"We felt we had to open up our offense," Casillas said. "We've tried to make it so we're very unpredictable. With Curtis, we have all the options."
Conway says he likes playing quarterback better than running back, but says his best position is wide receiver. That's where he expects to play in college. He is leaning toward staying close to home.
"When I was younger I wanted to go to San Diego State," he said. "Now I want to go to USC so I can run track and play football. UCLA is a possibility, too. I want to stay in California, but if somebody gives me a good offer, I'll go there."
Said Casillas: "If I was a college coach, I'd be camping in his bedroom."
Conway's statistics confirm his versatility. He has rushed for 513 yards and 16 touchdowns on 66 carries (a 7.8-yard average), and completed 56 of 110 passes for 959 yards and 13 TDs. He has thrown three interceptions.
In one of his most impressive outings, Conway ran for 90 yards and three touchdowns, including two TDs in the fourth quarter, to rally Hawthorne from a 21-7 deficit to a 21-21 tie with rival Leuzinger on Oct. 9.
"Against most teams I would feel pretty comfortable with a 21-7 lead," said Leuzinger Coach Steve Carnes. "Because of (Conway), they were able to come back and tie us. It was his individual effort that got them first downs on a couple of crucial plays. He's the best player we've faced."
Conway has been impressing people with his athletic ability for some time.
He was 8 and playing Pop Warner football for the Junior Pee Wee Division Aztecs when Holieway played for the Junior Bantam Division Sentinels. Conway remembers hanging around Inglewood's Sentinel Field after his game to watch Holieway play.
Conway, like Holieway, played running back in his Pop Warner days. But when he got to Hawthorne, the coaches noticed he also had a strong arm.
"The quarterback they had wasn't doing the job," Conway said. "The coach was asking who wanted to go out (for the position), and he saw me throwing the ball."