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Baldwin Park's Offense Is Up in the Air : It's Sandlot Football, Says Coach; Throw the Football on Every Play

November 19, 1987|SCOT BUTWELL | Times Staff Writer

Opponents have spent countless hours preparing to stop Baldwin Park High's high-powered passing attack.

They needn't have bothered. How could they figure out what Baldwin Park is going to do when Baldwin Park doesn't even know.

"It's just a brand of sandlot football. Throw on every play," said assistant coach Tony Zane, mastermind behind the offense for 16 years. "Most of it is just different pass routes I learned while playing in park and semipro leagues.

"We don't have much down on paper and we don't require our players to memorize a bunch of plays. Most is improvised. We watch the game and respond to what the other team gives us.

"I'll have players yell to me from the huddle: 'Hey, coach, I can beat my man on this pattern.' And I say, 'OK.' If they feel that good about it, then they can probably do it. It's even come down to diagraming plays in the palm of a hand.

"If we have a big receiver on a smaller cornerback, we just have the quarterback throw it up and let our receiver jump up and take it away.

"A lot of teams think we are running all these complicated pass routes, but we just try to get the ball to our best receiver and let his natural talent take over. It's that simple."

The talent must be there and the improvisation must be working because the Braves have amazingly produced 14 of the last 15 Montview all-league quarterbacks, including 10 that also made all-CIF. Along the way have won 10 league championships and one CIF title. "The quarterback position at Baldwin Park is like the tailback position at USC," said Coach Trifone Pagone, whose team won the Montview League title this season and plays San Bernardino in the first round of the CIF playoffs Friday at home.

"We get the best athletes at school to play quarterback and receiver, for the most part because of our style," Pagone said. "If we didn't throw, why would someone go out for quarterback or wide receiver? Why would a good receiver play college football for Oklahoma?"

Improvisation and talent aside, Pagone and Zane believe the extra time they spend in practice is the main reason for the passing success.

"Our kids catch four to five times as many balls a week as a regular high school football team," Zane said.

Zane said he is different from other coaches in that he doesn't teach--or care about--proper mechanics or fundamentals of throwing the ball.

"Some of our quarterbacks have looked sloppy throwing the ball," he said. "We've had guys who throw unnaturally, with their elbow too close to the body, or even throw side arm, but we don't care about that.

"It doesn't matter how the quarterback gets the ball to the receiver. To us, it only matters that the quarterback gets the ball to the receiver at the right time, which means perfect timing."

Does that mean that receivers must run precise, disciplined patterns?

No. "I don't tell our receivers to plant their foot at this time or turn their shoulders a certain way," Zane said. "I just tell them to catch the football."

Simplicity has brought success for Pagone and Zane, but their philosophy actually came out of necessity when the two began coaching together at their high school alma mater, Daniel Murphy, in 1971. The school hadn't won a league game in eight years.

"I was the only person to apply for the job," Pagone said. "No one else wanted to coach there, so I was hired. We had a small offensive line, even a 147-pound offensive tackle, but we had some talented skill-position players. We knew we couldn't run the ball and play power football with the guys we had.

"The only way we were going to win was to pass. We won the league championship our second year, and from then on, Tony and I become sold that passing was the way to win football games."

Since arriving at Baldwin Park, the frenzied passing has also been a way to monopolize CIF record books with receiver and quarterback statistics. This season's quarterback, senior Kirk Gair, has passed for 1,701 yards and 17 touchdowns, both far and away San Gabriel Valley highs. His top receivers, Bob Levesque and Bruno Haro, have combined to catch 74 passes for 12 touchdowns and more than 1,200 yards.

Funny thing, though, long-time rival Azusa Coach Mark Schuster notes: "Year in and year out, they tear up defenses, but their quarterbacks and receivers never go on to play anywhere in college."

"I guess we spoil them by being loosely regimented. Maybe they have trouble adjusting to an organized passing system," Zane said.

Whatever the case, defense will always have trouble stopping the passing attack at Baldwin Park.

"When it's pretty it's pretty," Zane said. "But when it's ugly, it's ugly."

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