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Koffler Gets His Chance to Call Shots for Rosemead : Preps: He makes a successful transition from all-league defensive end to quarterback.

October 25, 1990|MITCH POLIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As an all-league defensive end for Rosemead High last season, one of Matt Koffler's main objectives was to sack the quarterback.

But as a junior this season, that's about the furthest thing from Koffler's mind.

That's because this season Koffler is the quarterback for the Panthers.

Only a month past his 16th birthday, Koffler is the leading passer in the San Gabriel Valley.

At 6 foot 3 and 205 pounds, he has completed 89 of 155 passes for 1,312 yards and 14 touchdowns to spark the Panthers to a 6-1 record--one of the best starts in school history.

Not bad for a converted defensive end, although Koffler wasn't exactly a stranger to playing quarterback at the start of the season.

Koffler had played quarterback for three years as a youth player in Pop Warner football and spent his first season in high school as quarterback of the freshman team.

When Koffler moved up to the varsity last season, the Panthers already had a starting quarterback, Jesus Huerta.

"They didn't really look at me as a quarterback my sophomore year because they had Jesus Huerta," Koffler said. "I moved to defensive end because it gave me a chance to play right away. If I didn't play defensive end, I wouldn't have played much at all."

He didn't actually play his first game on the varsity until the second week of the season against Azusa because he had yet to turn 15--the youngest age for a varsity player under CIF Southern Section rules.

"I didn't play against Baldwin Park the week before because I was too young but from the Azusa game on I played defensive end and I also played a little tight end," Koffler said.

Koffler said he probably wouldn't have played much at defensive end if the Rosemead coaching staff had decided to use a starting offensive lineman at his position.

"They were originally going to play him both ways but the coach decided it was too tiring for him and he put me in there," he said.

It turned out to be a wise move because Koffler wound up earning All-Mission Valley League honors as a defensive lineman.

Coach Jim Hall said that if Koffler wasn't as talented of a quarterback, he would probably still be playing defensive end.

"If he wasn't he'd still probably be playing defensive end and tight end because he's got good athletic ability and he plays those positions well," he said. "He's played tight end for us in summer (passing) league and he's got real good hands."

But Koffler said he has always seen himself more as a quarterback although his older brother, Kent, was an all-league offensive lineman for the Panthers the past three seasons.

"I played some defensive end in Pop Warner," he said. "That's where I learned (the position). I like to play there but I'd rather be playing quarterback."

Although he was also listed as the team's reserve quarterback last season, Koffler received his only playing time in a mop-up role in the second half of a game against Mountain View.

So he was understandably jittery when he stepped on the field as the team's starter this season.

"This year I was a little nervous for the first game against Baldwin Park and also against Temple City (the team's only loss) but now I think it's under control, Koffler said.

"It's like I was telling our coach, 'If I had gotten more of a chance to play (last year) I would've been more comfortable.' " he said. "So this year has been like my rookie year as a quarterback and I'm still learning a lot."

Fortunately for Koffler, who became the quarterback after Huerta was moved to wide receiver, he has quickly learned the position. Hall says he is not completely surprised by his quarterback's rapid development.

"He's a big boy and he's real intelligent, so we knew he had the capabilities of being a very good quarterback," Hall said. "We knew he'd be a success eventually, but we weren't sure if it would be this year."

Of course, it doesn't hurt to have good wide receivers to throw to, including Chang Weisberg, Kenny Gonzales and Huerta.

"I'm real surprised in a way but when we were in (summer) passing league I knew that we had four good receivers and if I could get the ball to them they could catch it," Koffler said.

He was also quick to credit the offensive line. "I knew we had a lot of skilled people," Koffler said. "I wasn't as sure about our line but they've just really progressed every game and they're giving me the time to throw."

But Hall says much of the credit also belongs to Koffler.

"From a skill standpoint, Matt has a lot of ability," Hall said. "He still needs to work on his feet. That's probably his weakest point because he can throw long, read defenses well and he's very strong. He benches about 250 pounds."

Koffler said his mobility on the field has been hindered by an injury to his right knee, which has forced him to wear a brace during games. He said he may have it operated on after the season.

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