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He's Tackling a New Endeavor : Semipro football: After losing his job, Clint Duran discovered he had not lost his love for the gridiron, so he started his own team.

August 25, 1994|KIRBY LEE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After graduating from Montebello High in 1987, it didn't take long for Clint Duran to discover that there was not a great demand for 5-foot-5, 120-pound receivers in college football.

That did little to quell Duran's affection for the game.

So Duran did the next best thing--he created his own semiprofessional team. Next month, he will return to the gridiron for the first time since high school as a player and owner of the Montebello Panthers.

"Some guys might want to use semipro football as a steppingstone to the pros, but there are guys who love the game of football and don't care whether it's pro or street ball," Duran, 24, said. "Just like in any sport, there are die-hard athletes who live and die for football. I created the team for those guys."

Duran has paid the price. About $20,000, to be exact, to cover the cost of uniforms, equipment, insurance and rental of the field at Cantwell-Sacred Heart of Mary High for home games.

The Panthers will play in the California Football League, which includes the Southern California Storm, San Diego Storm, the Orange County Cowboys, San Bernardino Blitz, Antelope Valley Crusaders and Ventura County Warriors.

The Panthers, who open the season Sept. 10, will play a 12-game regular season schedule under NFL rules, culminating with the playoffs and an all-star game. The team is coached by Jess Hunter, an architect from Pico Rivera.

Players do not receive a salary and must pay a $100 registration fee. They must supply their own pads and helmets. Ages range from 18 to 34 with varying amounts of experience.

Tight end Paul Albertini and fullback Nate Bolton played at Long Beach State and Fresno State, respectively. Quarterback Joey Jordan helped Schurr High to a Southern Section title in 1980 and was an All-Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference selection for four years at Whittier College.

Jordan, 31, a teacher at Eastmont Intermediate School in Montebello, played in Europe the past several years. He intended to visit a couple of practices but has wound up as offensive coordinator. One of Jordan's former fifth-grade students, Dennis Felix, 18, is a receiver on the team.

"They didn't have any plays and they were using simple formations and routes," Jordan said. "There was no way they were going to beat anybody with that. I started calling my own plays and got locked onto it. I finally decided to stick it out with them."

For Duran, the franchise has become a full-time endeavor. Duran was released from his job as a quality-control technician for a food manufacturing company in February and spends most of his day searching for sponsors from local businesses.

"I got laid off at the perfect time," Duran said. "I was working nights and it would have interfered with soliciting sponsorship for the team. Plus, this is a lot more fun than looking at crackers all day."

Duran, who will play tailback and has gained 35 pounds since high school, first became interested in semipro football after answering a newspaper ad for the San Bernardino Blitz last summer.

He practiced with the Blitz for several weeks, but said he left the team because of favoritism by the owner, who was also the coach and quarterback.

"I was there to have fun, but I was pretty disappointed with all the conflicts with the owner," Duran said. "I wasn't comfortable with the situation."

The experience, however, put the wheels in motion for Duran to start his own team. The Panthers were unanimously accepted into the league at a board meeting in March.

Finding players was another thing. Only five showed up on the first day of practice and even Duran's brother, Frank, was reluctant to join at first.

"There was no organization and it was just a bunch of weekend warriors," Frank Duran, 27, said. "A lot of guys would show up one day and wouldn't show up the next. I didn't really feel it was worth it to get beat up and not get paid, but I started building friendships and going regularly."

So did others. The team has nearly 40 players and is still growing. Most of the players hold full-time jobs and have families, which are factors in limiting the team to only two practices a week at Chet Holifield Park in Montebello.

"It's been a matter of friends telling friends," Duran said. "Getting to the first game has been a headache, getting the equipment and getting the guys all out at the same time. It's been adventure and hasn't been easy. We're going into this blindfolded but hopefully we'll do well and get some fan support."

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