DANA POINT — He'll be with you shortly, the coach promises, but there remains one last mental toughness drill before morning football practice is complete at Dana Hills High.
It's just the kind of exercise that puts a smile on the face of Scott Covington, a thinking man's player and the Dolphins' starting quarterback for the third consecutive season.
Perhaps this thoughtfulness is why Covington was so disturbed by the team's 4-5 showing and fifth-place finish last year in the South Coast League, especially since the Dolphins had reached the Division II championship game in 1991. He couldn't stop thinking about the down season, analyzing why it happened and figuring out what steps he could take to ensure it won't be repeated in 1993.
"Personally, it was very disappointing," said Covington, who blamed sporadic team unity on the lackluster season. "There were only one or two games when we played as an entire team. This year, everyone seems more attentive."
Thoughtfulness is but one of several characteristics Covington prides himself on. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound senior isn't patterning himself after anyone in particular, but when he lists the qualities he wants in his personal game plan, words such as intelligence and desire crop up.
"I like anyone who's smart and understands the game and is real competitive," he said of the intangibles that record books can't denote. "I think I have a knowledge, an intelligence about the game. I have a good release, good footwork, stuff that when I get into college won't have to be revamped. I'm technically sound, I don't have a lot of high school hitches."
At least none that first-year Coach Jack Murry is losing sleep over. Murry marvels at the skills Covington brings to the field.
"The thing that Scott has going for him, he does things that high school kids just don't do," Murry said. "He passes so that his receivers are the only ones who can possibly get to the ball. He has good touch, he's a great leader and I respect him as a man."
Murry, who coached Covington as a freshman, has such high regard for his quarterback that he looks to him to gauge the feelings of the entire team. Recently, after two weeks of hard practice, Covington snapped at the head coach.
"Scott never complains about anything," Murry said. "That's when I realized that if a guy like that's getting edgy, it's time to let up."
Time to let things run their course, and not push too hard. Since his phenomenal sophomore year on the varsity, Covington has learned the virtue of patience.
"Now I try to take what's given me and not try to force things," he said.
Not that he ever tried forcing his way to the top of any statistic sheet. Because he hasn't led the county in any statistical category, Covington is surprised by the attention he has received from colleges.
"I've gotten more recognition than I expected," he said. "It hasn't come from statistics. I haven't led the county in anything. Until this year, I haven't been in a system that has been a passing team. But that goes to show you stats aren't everything. If they only gave scholarships to the guys who are leaders in all the stats, I wouldn't be getting one."
This season, Covington is gearing not only toward another appearance in the playoffs but also toward some immeasurable goals.
"I want to do the kinds of things that underline the fact that I'm a quarterback that can go on and do something at the (college) Division I level," he said.
USC, Washington State, Miami and Wisconsin already have made inquiries.
"Scott's been a great quarterback in a system where they ran the ball," Murry said. "He never had many stats because he never threw the ball. This year, he'll get that chance."