Martin Maslonka has seen Orange Coast College football from both sides now.
Maslonka, a sophomore linebacker, played on OCC's 1985 team, which was 2-7-1. Then he returned home to Alaska for a year to work in construction before he rejoined the much-improved Pirates this season.
Orange Coast is 7-1 overall and 6-1 in the Mission Conference. Under Coach Bill Workman, who replaced Dick Tucker last season, the Pirates are tied for first with Saddleback with two games left.
OCC plays host to Palomar (4-3-1, 3-3-1) at 7:30 tonight, and Citrus plays at Saddleback.
Maslonka's return has helped trigger Orange Coast's return to prominence this season. He leads the team in tackles with 58, is second in sacks with 4 and has 2 fumble recoveries and an interception.
"He's been our mainstay all season," said Barry Waters, OCC's defensive coordinator. "He's one of those mature three-year players. He is the guy our defense rallies around. I've never seen him do or say anything negative toward the team."
Maslonka, a sophomore linebacker, came to OCC from Anchorage, Alaska, where he was an all-state inside linebacker at Diamond High School in 1985. Mike Tomco, Maslonka's high school coach, had played at Arizona State and was aware of the quality of community college football in Southern California. He suggested that Maslonka write letters to coaches here.
"I got a letter back from Dick Tucker and liked what he had to say, so I picked Orange Coast," Maslonka said. "I pretty much went with location. I moved to Alaska with my family when I was 12 (from Nebraska) and didn't leave the state until I came to OCC."
Tucker announced his retirement from coaching at the end of the 1985 season but stayed at the school as the Pirates' athletic director.
Maslonka, who played but did not start at inside linebacker in 1985, decided to take last season off to work full-time. He also had surgery to repair muscle damage to his right shoulder.
It gave him another season to mature. He was 17 when he first enrolled at OCC in 1985. Now he is 20.
"That year off really helped me," Maslonka said. "I wanted to play last season, but I needed to work. But I had time to think, and it helped with me with the mental part of the game.
"Now I know I want to play more than anything else. I don't mind being a leader, but I'd rather do it with my helmet than my mouth."
In other Mission Conference games:
Citrus (2-6, 2-5) at Saddleback (6-2, 6-1)--Citrus has had three straight losses and is in seventh place, but it presents a challenge each week because it is the only conference team that runs the veer option.
Saddleback has had five straight victories, the conference's longest winning streak. Saddleback quarterback Howard Gasser has thrown 151 passes without an interception, a streak that began in the season's second game. He is 115 of 203 for 1,624 yards, including 15 touchdown passes and 1 interception.
Saddleback leads the conference in scoring, averaging 39 points a game. Its defense also is ranked No. 1 in fewest points allowed--21 points a game.
Grossmont (4-3-1, 3-3-1) vs. Rancho Santiago (3-4, 4-4) at Santa Ana Stadium, 7:30 p.m.--Rancho Santiago has the conference's fourth-best passing offense (232 yards a game), and Grossmont has the second-best (270 yards a game).
Rancho Santiago is led by Rick Burns (134 of 241 for 1,780 yards, 12 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.) Burns has the fourth-best single-season mark for completions at Rancho Santiago and is ranked fifth on the all-time single-season yardage list.
In the South Coast Conference:
Golden West (4-3-1, 3-1-1) at Cerritos (5-2-1, 3-1-1), 7:30 p.m.--Unless Pasadena can defeat first-place El Camino (8-0, 5-0), this is a game of pride for Cerritos and Golden West. An El Camino victory would clinch the conference championship.
Golden West is starting to get players back from injuries. Running back Blaise Bryant (502 yards in 75 carries) and wide receiver Mike Crowley (23 catches for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns) both played last week for the first time in a month. But the normally solid Golden West defense played poorly, allowing 496 yards in total offense to Fullerton.
Cerritos is led by sophomore running back Andre Wooton, who became the conference's all-time leading rusher last Saturday. He has 2,162 yards in his two-year career.
Compton (2-6, 0-5) vs. Fullerton (4-3-1, 3-1-1) at Fullerton District Stadium, 7:30 p.m.-- Fullerton also needs help from Pasadena. Fullerton Coach Hal Sherbeck said last week that his team finally was able to focus on what it needed to do, which accounted for its impressive 39-23 victory over Golden West.