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Putting His Best Foot Forward : Former Venice Receiver Now Punts, Kicks and Passes for Touchdowns : Football: Gondolier Louis Jones took over all these foreign tasks because the coach considered him the best athlete.

November 09, 1989|RAY RIPTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before this football season, Louis Jones had never kicked, punted or played quarterback for Venice High School.

Yet he is doing all three--plus a few other things--and his all-around play is a big reason why the Gondoliers are undefeated.

A wide receiver and defensive back last year, Jones was asked to step in at quarterback this season because he is considered the team's best athlete, and the only other candidate was untried sophomore Jason Ehlers.

Jones stepped in, and the Gondoliers have stepped out smartly to an 8-0 record.

The left-handed (and left-footed) senior did not become an overnight combination of Dan Marino and Rich Karlis. He has completed only about 42% of his passes, and he has kicked only one field goal.

But he has passed for four touchdowns, rushed for more than 600 yards and eight touchdowns and caught an alley-oop pass from Ehlers to score the team's only touchdown in one game. He has also averaged 38 yards on his punts, and his kickoffs usually reach the end zone--sometimes beyond.

He might even be a better place-kicker, if he could find a size-13, square-toed kicking shoe used by straight-ahead kickers. He has been unable to find one and uses a regular football shoe for kickoffs and extra-point and field-goal attempts.

As a defensive back, Jones has been electrifying as usual, making touchdown-saving tackles, sacking quarterbacks and intercepting six passes. In one game, he played a little at defensive end and stopped a couple of running plays cold.

He is not a one-man team. He gets a lot of help from teammates, on offense and particularly on a defense that has shut out three opponents and given up but 40 points in eight games. But he does put on a one-man show. In fact, watching him is so entertaining that Al Dellinger, Venice co-coach with Tony Chretin, says it is like going to "a movie, like Burt Lancaster as Jim Thorpe or Ronald Reagan as the Gipper."

Dellinger hopes that "The Louis Jones Story" runs a few more weeks, long enough to win the last two games of the regular season, some playoff games and possibly a 3-A Los Angeles City championship.

Westchester, 7-1 overall and tied with Venice for first place in the Western League at 5-0, will make a strong effort to limit Jones to the role of a supporting actor when the teams meet in the last game of the regular season. The two will probably be playing for the league championship when Venice plays host to the Comets at 8 p.m. Nov. 17.

Meanwhile, the 6-foot 2-inch, 200-pound Jones likes being on camera often and has also gotten a kick out of his debut at quarterback, even though he says it is "a tough position."

He said, "You've got to take a lot of shots at quarterback. You get hit head-on or blind-sided. But it's fun. I enjoy it."

When he runs the ball, "it's fun to break tackles." It's not so much fun when he is brought down by a bone-jarring tackle. He said, however, that after he is hit hard he likes to "bounce back and run to the huddle" to show defenders that he can take their best shots.

"When I get hit real hard it makes me want to play that much harder. I'm like a man possessed, and, if I get a chance, they're going to pay for it."

Unfortunately for opponents, Jones hardly ever leaves the field, and so he gets a lot of chances for pay-backs. So do more than a few of his teammates, many of them also two-way players.

On offense, he said, he and the Venice running backs and receivers wouldn't "be anything without our line. They worked hard during the off-season, and they can really open some big holes for us."

Jones works hard at several sports. When the football season ends he will be playing varsity basketball, and when basketball season ends he'll be on the track team. In track, he is a hurdler, runs on the sprint relay team and is also a triple jumper and long jumper.

"If I'm not doing some kind of sport, I feel that I'm missing part of my life," he said. He doesn't miss much.

Jones' rise to football prominence hasn't been overlooked by college scouts. He has received letters from many schools, including California, Washington State, Hawaii, Louisiana State and USC. Scouts were said to have been in the stands last week as Venice routed University, 34-7.

"I would like to play (football) for Notre Dame, but I haven't heard from them," he said, so he is leaning toward LSU or USC.

There seems to be little question that Jones will play college football, but which of his many positions will he play?

Dellinger said Jones probably could do well at almost any position. "He could be a Randall Cunningham-, Major Harris- or Tony Rice-type quarterback. He's improving as a passer and would probably be a terrific option-type quarterback.

"He could be a tailback. He could probably carry 220 pounds on his frame. A first tackler usually doesn't get a clean shot at him. He is an elusive, punishing runner."

Dellinger said Jones could also play strong or free safety in college and be a punter or kicker. He said that Jones is not very accurate when he attempts field goals but that he could become so, particularly if he gets a proper kicking shoe.

He said he recently received a call from a major league baseball scout inquiring whether he thought Jones had possibilities as a pitcher--"and he's never played baseball." But he added that Jones' half-brother, Morris Nettles, has played baseball, years ago as an outfielder for the California Angels. "He's got some blood lines."

He also has some pretty good exit lines. One of them was, "As soon as you're satisfied as a player, you're finished as a team."

When asked if that was an original remark, Jones, as he does to his teammates, gave credit where credit was due. "I heard it on TV," he said.

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