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Former Santa Monica Standout Is Hoping for a Return to Glory : SANTA MONICA

March 19, 1992|STEVEN HERBERT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In one quarter Sunday, former Santa Monica High standout quarterback Pat O'Hara threw as many passes in a game as he did during his entire career at USC--nine.

Replacing quintessential NFL journeyman Babe Laufenberg with 10 minutes 17 seconds to play in the second quarter, O'Hara passed to Walter Wilson for a 13-yard touchdown on his first play.

O'Hara completed his next pass, a 10-yarder to Archie Herring, but failed to complete another pass in seven attempts and was intercepted twice in the Ohio Glory's 33-7 World League of American Football loss to the San Antonio Riders before 11,135 at San Marcos, Tex.

It was a tiebreaker game, however, the World League's nomenclature for an exhibition game. The NFL-backed spring international development league uses the games as the second factor to break ties for divisional titles and playoff berths.

When O'Hara was at Santa Monica High, touchdown passes were literally an every-game occurrence. He threw at least one in every game as a junior and senior, totaling 44 for 2 years. O'Hara was a two-time Times All-Westside selection and the Westside back of the year in 1984.

But O'Hara didn't throw another touchdown pass in a game until Sunday. At USC, timing and fate limited O'Hara to serving as a holder, mop-up and scout team quarterback.

After a redshirt season, O'Hara was a reserve behind Rodney Peete for two seasons. He finally earned the starting job in 1989.

But he never played a down that season because he tore two ligaments in his right knee and fractured his right leg when he was hit during the Trojans full intrasquad scrimmage only 10 days before the opener. O'Hara was hospitalized for three weeks and lost 30 pounds.

He returned in 1990 as the No. 3 quarterback, behind Todd Marinovich and Shane Foley, but during that stormy 8-4-1 season, punctuated with confrontations between Marinovich and Coach Larry Smith, O'Hara threw only two passes.

"A lot of things there left me with a bitter taste, the way some people handled my situation--rehabing my knee for a year and coming back completely healthy and really not having an opportunity to compete," O'Hara said he wasn't as bitter that he didn't play as he was about the way he was "treated as a person."

"I don't resent USC or any people over there. It was a great experience and I got my degree from there. Everything worked out to where I am now so I don't have any bitter feelings now, but it was a difficult time in my life."

Despite his lack of playing time, O'Hara was able to attract the attention of the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who selected him in the 10th round of the 1991 draft, the 260th selection overall.

O'Hara was again relegated to the bench, spending the first nine weeks of the season on the developmental squad. After one-time starter Chris Chandler was waived, O'Hara joined the active roster but never played in a regular-season game.

Still, O'Hara rates his tenure with the Buccaneers as a positive one.

"The greatest thing about it was that it was such a boost of confidence after the things I went through at USC," O'Hara said. "A lot of things went down at USC that I didn't feel real good about. It left me sort of in limbo of not knowing whether I was as good as I thought I was. I always thought I could play.

"(At Tampa Bay), I really felt like my old self again. I played well, the coaches were happy and I really made great strides."

O'Hara turned to the World League seeking to further his progress. Under the enhancement allocation draft, which in part assigns NFL players to World League teams geographically close to their NFL team, O'Hara was originally assigned to play with the Orlando Thunder. But when Miami Dolphin reserve quarterback Scott Mitchell was also allocated to Orlando, O'Hara was traded to Ohio, the World League's first expansion team.

When O'Hara and the rest of the NFL players reported to Ohio's training camp in San Antonio on Feb. 23, he was already a week behind and had missed 15 practices.

"It was a difficult adjustment at first," O'Hara said. "I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable. I'm learning, getting a chance to get some repetition in practice and play in games. So far, it's been a good experience."

Larry Little, an All-Pro offensive lineman with Miami in the 1970s and now the coach of the Glory, said he is pleased with O'Hara's progress.

"I like his coolness under pressure," Little said. "He has a very live arm and, basically, he's a pretty accurate quarterback and does everything well. I think Pat can go a long way."

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