Like a finely tuned sports car or a thoroughbred race horse, Curtis Conway fits the built-for-speed mold. And, as every football scout knows, speed sells.
The senior quarterback for Hawthorne High School spent most of last season impressing scouts by running circles around the opposition. When the dust settled, two games into the CIF-Southern Section playoffs, Conway had accounted for a staggering 39 of the Cougars' 42 touchdowns.
Those numbers eventually made their way to Allen Wallace, co-publisher and editor of Super Prep magazine in Costa Mesa.
"That stat really got me," he said.
When Wallace also learned that Conway runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds and was second in the 100 meters at the state track meet, it didn't take much convincing from college recruiters for Wallace to reach his conclusion: Super Prep rated Conway the top quarterback prospect in the nation in its preseason issue.
Explaining the rating, Wallace said: "It was based on the fact that Conway seems to be the world's fastest quarterback."
That's a strong endorsement, but nobody argues the point. Dick Lascola, who has been scouting preps for 13 years, shares a similar view.
"He's probably the fastest (quarterback) I've ever seen," he said. "If he stays healthy and does well in the classroom, he will be able to pick and choose what college he wants to go to. I think he's one of the better players not only in Southern California but in the nation."
Conway has proof that colleges feel the same way. It lies in a large bag at his grandmother's house. The bag is nearly filled with recruiting letters.
"It's like a big ol' trash bag," he said.
That's not to say Conway considers the letters garbage, but he admits that the attention can become distracting. Scouting services and football publications have included him on virtually every preseason All-American list, a good sign that he will be among the nation's most sought-after players.
Conway, however, is taking nothing for granted. The 6-2, 180-pounder believes he must prove himself this season, which gets under way at 7:30 Saturday night when Hawthorne travels to face Hueneme High in Oxnard. The Cougars are No. 3 in the CIF Division II preseason rankings, an honor largely based on Conway's return.
"Everybody is giving me a lot of publicity," he said. "It's nice and all, but sometimes it's too much.
"I hope to live up to it. I don't want to have a great junior year and a down senior year. I want to have at least an equal season to last year."
Conway's junior season was equal to a dazzling career for most players. He rushed for 834 yards and 21 touchdowns and passed for 1,517 yards and 18 TDs, leading Hawthorne to a 9-2-1 record, the Ocean League tri-championship and the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference playoffs. He was named South Bay Back of the Year by The Times and was one of three underclassmen selected to the all-Southern Conference squad.
El Toro Coach Bob Johnson, whose team defeated Hawthorne, 26-20, in the playoffs on its way to a second straight CIF title, has vivid memories of Conway, who passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in the game.
"He scares you to death," said Johnson, a former quarterback at Redondo High and El Camino College. "He can break it open at any time. He's as good as I've seen in that way. He just runs around and beats you. It's not that he can't throw, but the real way he beats you is with his scrambling. Trying to contain him is tough. One time he made six or seven of our guys miss him."
Lascola says Conway reminds him of Johnson's son Bret, a UCLA freshman who was a prep all-American at El Toro. Johnson agrees that both quarterbacks are elusive, but he says their strengths are in different areas.
"Bret is a passer first and a runner second," he said. "Conway is a runner first and a passer second."
Johnson's opinion is shared by a number of other coaches and scouts. That is why Conway's name frequently shows up in publications under the heading of "athlete/quarterback" or "utility back." Some observers believe he would be more effective playing a position other than quarterback in college.
Lascola, head of the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn., isn't one of them.
"I think he's a strong quarterback," he said. "He would make a great quarterback at an option-type school or in a sprint-out attack. I think he would be awesome. He gives a team two dimensions: He can run and pass.
"I don't think he'd fit in at a drop-back quarterback school. That's not to say he couldn't, but I think he'd be better off at an option school."