Late for a recent practice at Simi Valley High--an interview had delayed him--Tony Kerr sprinted across the practice field in full football gear to join his teammates.
Once there, he lined up in the back row of a calisthenics formation, where he seemed out of place. Kerr is accustomed to leading his teammates, not following.
"Normally we try to get two seniors who had outstanding games the last week to lead warmups," said Roger McCamy, Simi Valley's running back coach. "But lately it's like we've just been picking somebody to do it with Tony."
Other examples of Kerr's leadership:
As a 10th-grader, he was brought up to the varsity to play on the scout team against the first-string defense. During practice, an offensive lineman missed a block on a blitzing linebacker, who promptly leveled Kerr, a running back. Hoping to teach the lineman a lesson, Simi Valley Coach Dave Murphy instructed Kerr and the lineman to switch positions and told the defense the same play was coming.
Kerr made the block and the lineman scored.
"Nobody said to just let him through, so I made the block," Kerr said.
After Simi Valley's 28-6 loss to Camarillo two weeks ago, Kerr was more upset about the Pioneers' vanished playoff hopes than the two school records he set: "I didn't care. We lost and now we're out of the playoffs."
Said Murphy: "Every day he tells kids to work harder. I can't think of a bad day Tony's had in practice in four years. He runs at full speed all the time."
Kerr's teammates have noticed.
"He's a good motivator. He keeps your head up," said Jason Stein, a starting offensive lineman. "You look to him because he works so hard. You want to work hard because he does."
If he wins the team's most valuable player award this year--which is likely--it will be his third consecutive team MVP award for Kerr. He was the sophomore team MVP and last year's varsity MVP.
"He wants to win more than anyone on the team. He's a very strong-willed kind of perfectionist," Lujan said.
Kerr, however, downplays his role.
"Tony's a quiet kid in class. All the teachers say that," said Murphy, who also is Kerr's economics teacher. "He was homecoming king. I had to convince him to run and tell him that he had a good chance to win."
Kerr's hard work does not end on the football field. He maintains a 3.7 grade-point average in college preparatory classes and has drawn interest from Ivy League schools to play football next year.
But there is a lighter side to Kerr. He still draws a hearty laugh about his 98-yard run from scrimmage against Newbury Park that set a school record--on the wrong play.
"We lined up unbalanced right, but we were supposed to be unbalanced on the left," Kerr said. "So the wrong play was called in the huddle, and the coaches were yelling at us from the sideline to try to tell us to call a timeout. But I got a couple of good blocks downfield and got into the open field."
Kerr also set the school record for yards in a game (240) against Newbury Park and now holds four Simi Valley rushing marks. His 1,293 yards this season and 1,938 in his career are both school bests. Both records belonged to M. J. Nelson, who graduated from Simi Valley in 1986 and is now a running back at Colorado.
"I saw Tony during the summer and we talked about the upcoming season," Nelson said. "I saw him play as a freshman and during Pop Warner and I knew he'd only get better."
Comparisons, however, should not be made between the two running backs.
As runners, "M. J. and Tony are opposites," McCamy said. "M. J. was fast and fluid. Tony is quick off the ball and hits the hole fast, before linebackers can plug the holes."
Perhaps the only obstacle standing between Kerr and a Division I scholarship is his size--Kerr is 5-9, 170 pounds. Still, Washington State, Utah, Utah State and Army have expressed interest. Kerr visited Cal Lutheran, a Division II school, two weekends ago.
"Tony would get offers from some major universities if not for his size," Murphy said. "He only has 4.65 speed, but I haven't seen anyone run him down from behind."
No matter where he goes next year, Kerr appears to have made a lasting impression at Simi Valley.
"Whenever we're in the huddle on a third or fourth and short we just look at each other, because we know what to do," Stein said. "We just have to give it to number 22. It's like a magic number."