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MacLean Takes Stage Under Center : Granada Hills Quarterback Becomes Area's Leading Passer in 1st Year as Starter


GRANADA HILLS — Brian MacLean wore No. 50 in practice this week. A most ill-suited numeral for a quarterback--especially a football-slinging, pass-happy Granada Hills High quarterback--but OK for a tight end.

At tight end is where MacLean figured to spend his senior season, catching the odd pass and maybe mopping up as the backup quarterback.

But he lucked out because of an early retirement plan last summer. Incumbent quarterback Jim Landress, whom MacLean had backed up since the two friends were in ninth grade, quit football to concentrate on baseball.

Guess who finally got to shine?

MacLean, the goateed, unorthodox thrower with blue-collar footwork, is now in the spotlight.

He wears a very quarterback-like No. 14 in games, and he has more than lived up to that number by leading the area in passing.

"I'm still surprising myself, " he said with a bemused smile at practice this week.

Then he loped onto the field into a seven-on-seven passing drill and lofted a long, high toss down the sideline. His receiver was blanketed by a Highlander defensive back. No way would it be a completion. But MacLean's pass dropped perfectly into his receiver's arms, inches beyond the defender's fingertips.

"Damn!" the defender yelled. "How'd that get through?"

His wasn't the only head turned by MacLean's progress.

"I remember back in summer passing leagues we were having trouble getting him to throw a spiral," Granada Hills Coach Tom Harp said. "He may not have the greatest technique int he world, but we just let him use his natural ability. Now he's putting the ball on the money."

MacLean has passed for 1,330 yards and 14 touchdowns, both area bests, and he ranks sixth in the state in passing yardage. Tonight at 7, he leads Granada Hills (4-2, 3-0) at Taft (5-1, 3-0) in a first-place showdown in the Northwest Valley Conference.

Considering its 3-7 record last season, Granada Hills' success is a mild surprise. Ditto MacLean's breakthrough--though it is not totally unexpected. Last season, he filled in when Landress suffered a concussion, passing for 259 yards and a touchdown in a start against El Camino Real.

But there was never any doubt that Landress was the man. Luckily for MacLean, Landress is a promising professional baseball prospect who decided this summer to focus exclusively that sport.

Harp immediately named MacLean the starter. The former starter had a friendly word of advice. "I told him, 'This is your chance--have fun,' " Landress said.

The opportunity was a long time in coming. Landress and MacLean became friends when they attended Notre Dame as ninth graders. They shared rides to school but did not share time under center--MacLean was the second-stringer.

"I was nothing back then," he said. And there was no role reversal after they both transferred to Granada Hills before their sophomore years. MacLean remained the understudy.

Then suddenly, last summer.

"I was kind of happy (that Landress quit)," MacLean said. "I wanted to play quarterback."

His teammates and coaches believed he had potential--"We didn't go, 'Oh, no!' " wide receiver Jason Ascencio said. "We knew that Brian was going to come through"--and MacLean has justified that belief.

After starting slowly, Granada Hills has won its last three games, beginning with a 7-6 upset of Kennedy sparked by a MacLean touchdown pass. MacLean and his teammates eagerly await highly regarded Taft. "This is our Super Bowl," MacLean said.

Hyperbole, perhaps, but the game and the sport loom large in MacLean's life. He says his two loves are football and his lowered, white Chevy truck. He works at a gas station on weekends and pours the money--and his time--into his car. "My God," teammate Eric Carpenter groaned. "If that truck had emotions, I think he'd propose to it."

But Carpenter doesn't complain because MacLean gives him rides and throws him plenty of passes. Carpenter is second in the area with 40 receptions and leads the area with 607 receiving yards and seven touchdowns (tied with Westlake All-American Billy Miller).

MacLean's tosses also find Ascencio, who has 21 catches for 365 yards and four scores, and Afri Walker, with 17 catches and three touchdowns.

"Some parents call us the MAAC Attack," Carpenter said. "For MacLean, Ascencio, Afri and Carpenter."

To the winners go the nicknames.

But whither MacLean? He would like to play in college, but the market for 6-foot-1, 180-pound college quarterbacks is not large.

"I've got some growing to do," he said grinning, adding that he has not been contacted by any college recruiters.

But for now, he is content. After all, a year ago, he was a reserve tight end. Today he is the area's leading passer.

"I never suspected anything like this."

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