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So Far, It's Sommer Time : Moorpark Quarterback Has Held Off Competition From Merrill, Henry

September 08, 1988|RALPH NICHOLS | Times Staff Writer

Consider Moorpark College quarterback David Sommer's statistics from last season for a moment--which is about all the time it should take.

Appearing in only four games, Sommer completed 8 of 13 passes for 114 yards. He mostly roamed the sidelines while Dan Nagelmann, now at Cal Lutheran, guided the Raiders to a 7-2 record.

While Sommer didn't rack up much playing time as a freshman, his 13 passes give him the edge for the 1988 version of Coach Jim Bittner's least favorite game--musical quarterbacks.

Sommer is the only sophomore among three quarterbacks competing for the position. The two freshman are Jayson Merrill, who passed for more than 1,500 yards for a school record in his senior season at Newbury Park High in 1986, and former Camarillo High quarterback Mike Henry.

Despite his lack of playing time, Sommer (6-1, 180 pounds) is the leading candidate to succeed Nagelmann. He knows the Raider offense and had a season to gauge the competition in the Western State Conference.

"David Sommer understands the offense and you would always have to consider a player coming back as having the inside track," offensive coordinator Will Thurston said.

Bittner concurred that Sommer's experience gives him the edge.

"I have no way of knowing how Merrill or Henry will react in a game," Bittner said. "But I know that game pressure doesn't bother Sommer at all."

Sommer, 22, is also the oldest of Moorpark's quarterbacks. He sat out four years after his senior season at Simi Valley High in 1982 before resuming his football career at Moorpark.

"Coming out of high school, I realized I was not mentally tough enough to play college ball," Sommer said. "You've got to be mentally prepared in college, especially at quarterback."

As an older quarterback, Sommer considers his maturity level to be his greatest asset.

"All of the physical attributes are there and I'm able to relax more on the field than I was able to in high school," Sommer said.

Bittner said that Sommer, a sprint-out quarterback, performs better in game situations than in practice, but the competition among the three remains close.

"They can all run with the ball and throw well on the move," Bittner said. "What's really going to separate them is probably their mental preparation."

Merrill is providing Sommer stiff competition--and he isn't giving up. "He definitely has the advantage right now, knowing the offense a little more," Merrill said. "But it's not that complicated and we're all getting playing time."

Merrill (6-0, 170) was an All-Marmonte League and All-Ventura County selection following the 1986 season. He completed 55% of his passes and led Newbury Park to the playoffs.

Newbury Park Coach Ken Cook credits Merrill with much of the Panthers' success during his two years as quarterback.

"Jayson is a very good quarterback with a strong arm, plus he's a great competitor," Cook said. "He doesn't have great speed, but he has the knack for getting loose."

Merrill wasn't heavily recruited out of high school and, like Sommer, decided he needed a break from football. He took classes at Ventura College last year before transferring to Moorpark to resume his career.

"I didn't think I would miss football, but I did," Merrill said. "I think the layoff has done me some good. It has made me hungry and want to come out and try a little harder."

Bittner is impressed with Merrill's leadership abilities and attitude on the field.

"Merrill has been impressive in all phases of the game," Bittner said. "He keeps his eyes down the field and he can move around well."

Henry (6-0, 195) also took a year off after his senior season at Camarillo in 1986, when he was an All-Marmonte League second-team selection. Henry chose Moorpark in the hopes of succeeding Nagelmann.

"I think Dave is the starting quarterback right now, but I'll get my shot," Henry said. "I don't see the situation as one main guy and two also-rans."

Bittner lost his top freshman quarterback prospect, Steve Sisco from Thousand Oaks High, before the season even started. Sisco, who led the Lancers to their first Southern Section championship last season, decided not to play football.

"It was a big disappointment for us," Thurston said.

Without Sisco, Moorpark had four quarterbacks in competition for the position when training camp opened last month. But Bittner moved freshman Steve Pinkston to tight end last week.

"I just didn't feel comfortable with the way I was playing, so I wanted to try something else," Pinkston said. "I was real inconsistent and I think I just lost the desire to play quarterback."

Sommer, Merrill and Henry will have plenty of time to show their skills. With the cancellation of Moorpark's season opener against Taft last Saturday, the trio will have to wait until the Raiders' Sept. 17 game against Valley to show their stuff.

"I wanted to take a shot at Taft to see how I did," Merrill said. "I think the wait is going to make everybody more hungry to play."

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