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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PREVIEW : Colleges Start Now to Measure Romero

September 03, 1993|PAIGE A. LEECH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's do or die as far as Jim Romero is concerned.

The way the wide receiver from L.A. Baptist High views it, the Knights' first two games could make or break his dreams of being offered a college football scholarship.

Recruiters from Washington and California already have sent a couple of blank videotapes to L.A. Baptist Coach Mark Bates. The Pacific 10 Conference schools want to determine as soon as possible whether the undersized receiver is worthy of a Division I scholarship.

"It does put a lot of pressure on me," Romero said. "In the back of my mind, I know I have to have decent games. I'm just going to try to relax and not think about it."

While Romero's athleticism and receiving statistics speak volumes, his 5-foot-11, 170-pound frame casts a diminutive shadow of doubt among some recruiters. And the fact that Romero plays for a school of about 450 students in the Southern Section's Division X Alpha League does little to allay their concerns.

But Romero is not your typical too-small-for-Division I recruit. He's also a Southern Section Division IV high jump and long jump champion. He finished sixth in the state in the high jump and has personal bests of 6-10 3/4 in the high jump and 22-9 3/4 in the long jump.

"I guess being able to high jump 6-10 makes up for a few inches," Bates said. And that's part of the reason why more than 30 universities, including eight Pac-10 schools, are watching him closely.

Village Christian Coach Mike Plaisance is also a Romero believer.

"He has been tabbed as the best wide receiver in Division X and I concur with that," Plaisance said. "Most teams go to double and triple coverage on him."

Once strictly a track and field athlete who played a little flag football in his youth, Romero donned football gear for the first time two years ago. He did not want to play the sport as a freshman, fearing injury--but he was the Knights' No. 1 fan.

"I sat and watched my freshman year," Romero said. "I went to every game."

But watching the Knights play fueled Romero's desire to get into the game. A year later, he found himself starting at wide receiver on the varsity with little regard for his previous fear.

"I don't even worry about (injuries) a bit," he said. "I don't even tape my ankles. Never have."

Romero, who has not suffered an injury on the football field, has been the Knights' leading receiver the past two seasons--and the team's leading scorer with 14 touchdowns in 1992.

Teaching Romero the tricks of his trade have not been hard for Bates.

"He learns things very quickly," the Knights' coach said. "He does things right the first time."

And perhaps a little better each successive time. To increase his chances of recruitment, Romero worked on his speed in the off-season and lowered his 40-yard time from 4.64 to 4.41, he said.

Last season, Romero was on the receiving end of 10 of quarterback Zack Hernandez's 12 touchdown passes. Hernandez completed 87 passes and nearly half (38) went to Romero, for 721 yards.

As a sophomore, Romero led all receivers with 23 catches for 561 yards.

"At the beginning of my sophomore year, I thought this is my way to get to college," he said. "Now I've just grown to love the game."

Romero and Hernandez are two of 16 starters returning for the Knights, the Alpha League favorite.

The only league opponent capable of giving L.A. Baptist a run for the title is defending champion Village Christian, which has eight returning starters.

League rivals Maranatha and Marshall Fundamental start the 1993 season with new coaches, and Western Christian dropped out of the league this week because of a lack of players.

But, no matter who the opponent, the key to the Knights' success--and Romero's recruitment success--will be Romero.

"Any time Jim has the ball, we'll be good," Bates said.

* FOOTBALL PUNTED: Western Christian won't field a varsity football team because of lack of players. C10

Alpha League at a Glance

1992 STANDINGS OVERALL LEAGUE PROJECTED FINISH Village Christian 6-6* 4-0 L.A. Baptist L.A. Baptist 6-6 3-1 Village Christian ** Western Christian 4-7 2-2 Marshall Fundamental Marshall Fundamental 2-8 1-3 Maranatha Maranatha 1-9 0-4

* Includes four forfeits for ineligible player ** Dropped its varsity football program

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Player School Pos. Ht Wt Class Mike Agnor Village Christian G/LB 6-0 215 Sr. Ignacio Brache Village Christian PK 5-11 180 Jr. Zack Hernandez L.A. Baptist QB 5-11 165 Sr. Fred Hughes Marshall Fundamental OL/DL 6-0 220 Sr. Craig Lord L.A. Baptist TE/LB 6-0 210 Sr. Henry Matthews L.A. Baptist T/DT 6-1 300 Sr. Jim Romero L.A. Baptist WR 5-11 170 Sr. Mike Spielman Village Christian QB/DB 6-0 175 Sr. Jeff Symington L.A. Baptist RB 5-7 175 Sr. Patrick Walker Marshall Fundamental WR/DB 6-3 170 Jr.

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