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Another Elway? : It May Be, but Glendora High School's J. J. O'Laughlin Wants to Succeed on His Own Rather Than Copy Any Other Quarterback

September 14, 1989|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

In assessing the football talents of Glendora High School'J. O'Laughlin, it's easy to understand why comparisons to John Elway of the Denver Broncos have been frequently made.

Both are quarterbacks who wear a 7 on their jerseys; and that's just for starters.

"He's the same type of quarterback as Elway," said Dean Karnoski, O'Laughlin's coach at Glendora. "He's basically a drop-back passer with a tremendous passing arm, but when he gets in trouble he can scramble."

But the 18-year-old O'Laughlin does not want to be compared with Elway or any other quarterback who has ever worn a 7 on his uniform. He prefers to succeed on his own merit.

"I'm not trying to pattern myself after anyone else," O'Laughlin said. "I just want to be myself. As the coach always says, I just want to be the best player I can be."

So far, the 6-foot-3 and 195-pound senior's best has been good enough to make a lasting impression on college scouts.

Super scout Dick Lascola of the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn. said of O'Laughlin: "He's got all the tools you look for in a quarterback. He's got the size, the arm and the smarts."

Lascola, who rates O'Laughlin as one of the top quarterback prospects in talent-rich Southern California, is not the only one who feels that way.

SuperPrep magazine listed him No. 6 among quarterbacks in the nation on its preseason All-America squad, and Cal-Hi Sports Week of Sacramento selected O'Laughlin as the only quarterback on its preseason all-state first team.

O'Laughlin, who is in his third year as starting quarterback for the Tartans, has hardly produced the most impressive passing statistics of any prospect in the Southland.

He completed only 80 of 209 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, and improved to 86 of 178 for 1,450 yards and six TDs last season. In his first game as a senior against South Hills last week, he was six of 11 for 106 yards and one touchdown.

But Karnoski says those statistics are a little deceiving.

"He hasn't gotten a lot of help from his receivers," he said. "We probably dropped 400 to 500 yards worth of passes last year that were in the kids' arms."

The coach hopes that a better receiving corps and a more balanced offense this season will make things easier for O'Laughlin.

The improvement of the receivers was noticeable in the team's first game, Karnoski said.

"In a sense, we restructured our passing game to enable (the receivers) to catch the ball a little more effectively," Karnoski said. "Plus, our kids are a little better receivers. They have a real desire to succeed at that this year."

It also helps to have a better rushing attack, led by juniors Bill Zernickow and Bobby Baeza, which helps explain why O'Laughlin threw only 11 passes against South Hills.

"It definitely takes some of the pressure off," O'Laughlin said. "It's a delight to see when you have great running backs behind you and a good offensive line."

However, to understand why O'Laughlin is considered a big-time prospect in the eyes of recruiters, one has to look beyond his statistics. Karnoski said he has noticed improvement in his quarterback's passing skills.

"The improvement I see is (that) he now has the ability to alter his touch on the football," the coach said. "He can pass it harder or softer depending on what the situation warrants. He also has a much better understanding of opposing defenses and how to read them."

On the field, O'Laughlin is cool and collected, and displays leadership ability that would make a brigadier general envious.

"I like to present as much calm and leadership as I can on the field and keep the offense moving," O'Laughlin said. "There's a lot of times when it gets so intense on the field, and I have to keep us moving in the right direction.

"I try to be a leader. I like to be in a situation where (teammates) look up to me. But I was in the other situation when I was a sophomore, and now they look to me in the same way."

Karnoski said O'Laughlin has been a good model for the rest of the players on the team.

"He does whatever we ask him, whenever we ask him," Karnoski said. "He works real hard in practice and in games. That comes from his tremendous competitive spirit. He always wants to be a winner in whatever he does."

Sometimes, the coach admits, the competitive nature of O'Laughlin can be his own worst enemy, such as a play in the South Hills game when he fumbled after attempting to scramble away from a pass rush.

"His biggest weakness is his competitiveness," Karnoski said. "You can't be a quarterback and expect every play to work or to be a miracle worker."

But that is one of the few complaints you will hear about O'Laughlin. More often you will hear Karnoski admiring the player's all-around athletic ability.

In prep football, O'Laughlin has played primarily at quarterback and has also seen duty as a punter and safety. He was not always a quarterback, though.

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