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County Has Proud Tradition All Down the Line : Many Former O.C. Linemen Reach Division I Level, NFL

October 11, 1994|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ten years ago, a little-known assistant coach named Dave Wannstedt strolled into the office of La Habra football Coach Bob Rau with a proclamation.

"He said, 'Coach, I'm recruiting only two defensive linemen in California and Dan Owens is one of them,' " said Rau, now the head coach at Buena Park. "I knew from when Dan was a sophomore that he had Division I potential."

Owens discovered his potential in the NFL, and so did Wannstedt. Wannstedt, an assistant at USC from 1983-'85, is now the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

After Owens became the only USC defender to start every game of a four-year career, the Detroit Lions selected him in the second round of the 1990 draft. He has started for the Lions since 1991.

Owens is one of many former Orange County linemen who have made it to the NFL. Some have won Super Bowls, some lost them. Some were highly touted prospects. Others came out of nowhere.

A look at some of the county's best linemen:

SUPER BOWLED

Glenn Parker has started for the Buffalo Bills and has played in the last four Super Bowls. But Parker, 28, never played a down of high school football.

Parker attended Edison High, where Coach Bill Workman led the Chargers to three Southern Section Big-Five championships from 1979-85. But Parker wasn't interested in football until until he got to Golden West College.

"It might have been a blessing that he didn't play until after high school," said Ray Shackleford, Golden West's coach. "He wasn't burned out and there was no wear and tear on his body.

"From the first day we had him in practice, we knew he would be good. He was intelligent and learned things very quickly, he had great work habits to go with his great size and speed; he had everything it takes."

Gerry (Moon) Mullins, who played at Anaheim High and USC, has everything Parker wants. Parker has been to four Super Bowls, but Mullins, won four rings while playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1971 to 1980.

LINEMEN COUNTRY

Esperanza Coach Gary Meek has sent many linemen into the collegiate ranks, including the Werner brothers, Matt (UCLA) and Bryan (Stanford), Mike Linn (UCLA) and James Rae (UCLA). But one of Meek's best is now at the NFL's doorstep.

Brenden Stai graduated from Esperanza in 1990 and signed a letter of intent with Nebraska. Stai, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound guard, could be a first-round draft choice in 1995.

"The coaches at Nebraska are saying he could be a No. 1 draft pick and that he's the best offensive lineman they've ever had," Meek said. "He could be a millionaire. I just hope he doesn't forget where he came from."

Sophomore Travis Kirschke, The Times Orange County's lineman of the year in 1991 and '92, has seen significant action at defensive tackle and nose guard for UCLA.

"Travis would have played on the (Esperanza) varsity as a freshman, but he wasn't old enough," Meek said. "He led us to the CIF title as a sophomore and again as a senior. Obviously, Travis and Brenden are two of the best we've had."

A LEGEND

Rancho Santiago College football Coach Dave Ogas remembers an early meeting with Blaine Nye . . . on the basketball court.

"When I was at La Habra, I was a little, skinny, 6-3, 190-pounder jumping center against him," Ogas said. "He played basketball at Servite, and he was only 6-4 . . . but he was already a man."

Nye, who is in the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame, went on to play at Stanford. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Nye, a guard, in the fifth round of the 1968 draft. He played with the Cowboys until 1976.

THE DYNAMIC DUO

Fullerton High once boasted an offensive line tandem of Keith Van Horne and Hoby Brenner, who each had successful careers at USC before playing for more than a decade in the NFL.

Rau remembers how the pair plowed over his Lowell High squads in the mid-1970s.

"We had good teams but that was a guard-tackle combination that was pretty tough to beat," Rau said. "They just ran over us. It didn't take a Phi Beta Kappa to figure out how to use those guys."

Van Horne, a 6-6, 277-pound offensive tackle, was an All-American in 1980 and played for the Bears from 1981-93.

Brenner, who was 6-4 and 205 pounds in high school, added 35 pounds at USC and became an All-Pac 10 tight end in 1979. He played for the New Orleans Saints from 1981-93.

NO GUARANTEES

Success in high school or college doesn't necessarily ensure a fruitful professional career.

Valencia Coach Mike Marrujo said in the mid-1980s that guard Joe Garten was the best lineman he had ever coached. Garten was a two-time consensus All-American at Colorado who finished second to Miami's Russell Maryland in balloting for the 1990 Outland Trophy, which honors the country's top lineman.

Garten, who was 6-3, 283-pounds, wasn't selected until the sixth round by the Green Bay Packers. He was cut by the Rams in 1993.

Oscar Wilson of Santa Ana was named The Times Orange County's lineman of the year in 1988 and '89 but didn't sign with a Division I college.

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