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Like Bo, Moorpark's Mustafa Has Found a Hobby : Junior colleges: A standout in track and field, he gives football a go and winds up as the Raiders' starting free safety.

October 09, 1993|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOORPARK — One day not long ago, a peculiar thought popped into Isaiah Mustafa's head and started to gnaw at him until he saw no alternative but to act on it.

For most everyone, what Mustafa was contemplating would have been outlandish. Time for a reality check. Another one of those Walter Mitty fantasies people often have and never achieve.

But not for Mustafa.

Get this. Mustafa, a marvelously talented basketball player and decathlete, wanted to play football. In college. On a successful team full of successful players.

"If you have the athletic ability, why waste it in one sport?" he reasoned.

Nothing wrong with that concept. Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders followed that logic, turning to professional baseball and football for kicks and profits. Both, however, played the two sports throughout their lives. Mustafa, by contrast, hadn't put on a helmet and pads since his childhood days in Pop Warner.

No problem. When you are 19, built like a walking commercial for a fitness program and have plenty of self-confidence, a little thing like that is insignificant. Or, in Mustafa's case, a motivational tool.

"I just believe in myself," Mustafa said. "When it comes to me, I know what I can do and can't do. I wanted to prove that I could play football."

He is making his point.

Despite his inexperience, Mustafa starts for Moorpark College at free safety, a position that is physically and mentally demanding. He'll be in action tonight at 7 when the Raiders travel to Pierce for a Western State Conference game between two of the four unbeaten teams in the conference.

So far Mustafa, 6 feet 3, 190 pounds, has held his own even though he is learning the position on the job and carries the added pressure of replacing All-American free safety Kenyon Lewis, now at Texas El Paso. After three games, Moorpark defensive backs coach Dave Murphy says he couldn't be happier with Mustafa's progress.

"He still has a ways to go," Murphy said, "but his improvement from the (first) game to now has been fantastic. He is a very intelligent young man and a very gifted athlete."

That he is. Murphy believes Mustafa, a football freshman but a sophomore in school, has a future in the game at the Division I level and maybe beyond. And Doni Green, the Moorpark track and field coach, sees unlimited potential in Mustafa as a decathlete. It's hard to argue with either.

Last season, for instance, Mustafa finished second in the decathlon at the state junior college championships.

"He shows a lot of promise, although there are certain areas he needs to improve in," Green said. "His 1,500 (meters) is terrible and I think he can run much better in the quarter (mile). But those are things he just needs to work at."

With his zeal for the sport, Mustafa undoubtedly will head for the next track season with a new resolve, fueled by Green's assessment that he could push it up another notch. Track, Mustafa says, is his favorite sport and self-assurance that borders on cockiness is the driving force.

"I feel that I have a good future in track as a decathlete," Mustafa said. "I believe there's nothing I can't accomplish. To me, going to the Olympics would be easier than going pro (in football). (In track) it's not someone else picking you. It's you doing whatever it takes to get there. With football, you have to prove to someone else what you can do. That's why I like track so much. That and the fact that whoever wins the decathlon (at the Olympics) is considered the greatest athlete in the world."

Mustafa got into track as a senior at Santa Clara High, where he was a basketball standout. Geof Foley, then the track coach at the school, convinced Mustafa to specialize in the decathlon. It didn't take long to see why Foley had made the suggestion. At the 1992 Golden West Invitational, Mustafa took fourth in the event.

"One of the things I liked about him was his work ethic," said Foley, now athletic director at Villanova Prep in Ojai. "He was willing to devote time to work with weights. You can see quantifiable results in the weight room that transfer to the track. That showed me his character."

Another example of that trait was Mustafa's commitment to the Santa Clara basketball team. He wanted to play football for the Saints his senior season in 1991, but abandoned the idea because he felt an obligation to the basketball team and Coach Lou Cvijanovich. And Mustafa feared that a long football season could jeopardize his basketball season.

"He was a hell of a basketball player and is probably one of the most loyal persons you'll ever meet," Cvijanovich said. "You can't say enough superlatives about him. Everything he did was positive."

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