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Fire and Ice : Franklin Wide Receiver Johnnie Sanders and QB Jeff Deno Have Combined to Place the Panthers Among the Area's Elite Teams

October 23, 1994|CHARLES SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Johnnie and Jeff.

Fire and Ice.

One, Johnnie Sanders, is an emotionally charged wide receiver, whose big-play ability lights a spark in the Franklin High football team.

The other, Jeff Deno, is the composed quarterback, who calmly directs his offense downfield like a traffic cop during rush hour.

Deno and Sanders have blended so well together that they have become the most potent quarterback-receiver combination in the Central City while placing Franklin among the area's elite teams.

"They have been our big-play weapon all season," said coach Armando Gonzalez. "Our passing attack is our strong suit."

The Panthers have used the arm of Deno and the hands of Sanders to muscle their way into a first-place tie with Wilson atop the Northern Conference.

In winning five of six games, Franklin has averaged 29 points while surrendering only 17.

Along the way Deno and Sanders have been putting up eye-popping statistics. Deno is the area's leading passer, completing 89 of 153 attempts for 1,232 yards and 17 touchdowns going into Friday's game against Wilson.

The 5-11, 175-pound southpaw has the ability to conduct the five-minute drive as well as strike with the long bomb.

"Jeff . . . has that ability to throw the football with precision and accuracy," said Gonzalez, who coached the Panthers to a 2-A title in 1983 and 3-A titles in 1986, '87 and '89.

"Jeff does well under pressure. His nickname is Ice because he never shows much emotion."

Sanders, who is 6-4, 198 pounds, has twice scored three touchdowns in a game, in wins against North Hollywood and Verdugo Hills. Sanders leads the area in receptions (24), yards (521), touchdowns (11) and yards-per-catch (22).

"That is impressive for playing only four games," said Gonzalez, who suspended Sanders for disciplinary reasons, causing him to miss the game against Eagle Rock.

*

Nevertheless, Sanders' assault on the area's record book continues at a furious pace. A fact that he credits to Deno.

"Jeff is a terrific quarterback with a terrific arm," Sanders said. "He puts (the ball) where it is supposed to be."

Deno is equally enthusiastic about his deep threat.

"Johnnie is a great asset to the team," Deno said. "So far, he has been the receiver I go to."

Deno and Sanders have another common thread besides football in that they are both exceptional two-sport athletes.

Deno is a two-time All-Northern Conference pitcher for the varsity baseball team. He was 12-0 as a starter and was the winning pitcher in Franklin's 7-3 win over defending 3-A champion South Gate in the 1994 City semifinals last June. The next week, Deno scored the winning run as the Panthers defeated Huntington Park, 3-1, to win the 3-A championship.

"That felt great. Hopefully, I can have that feeling again by winning in football," Deno said.

When asked which sport he prefers, the senior is quick to answer: "Baseball, because I have been playing it all my life."

Last summer, Deno played for the Stars traveling team of the Amateur Athletic Baseball Congress, which caused him to miss most of football practice.

Gonzalez is surprised how quickly Deno has learned the offense.

"He picked up everything during the summer after participating in only one day of spring ball. Jeff is doing a phenomenal job to have only played in the system for four months," Gonzalez said."

Gonzalez, then, must be astonished at Sanders, who is making his debut on the football field after two standout seasons on the basketball court.

"We don't get many athletes like Johnnie at Franklin," Gonzalez said.

*

Sanders, a senior, averaged 20 points his sophomore season and increased it to 26 points during his junior year. He was chosen for the All-City team and named most valuable player of the Northeastern League twice.

Sanders has used his basketball experience to help make the transition to football.

"Basketball has helped me run better routes in terms of quickness and cutting," Sanders said. "I thought football would be a lot harder but I took my first hit and it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."

Sanders makes it clear that basketball is the sport he hopes to pursue in college, but "I would play both sports if I got the chance. I think I could handle it."

Despite their success as a tandem, Deno acknowledges that he and Sanders have not been the sole reason for Franklin's fast start.

"The coaching staff helps me a lot and my offensive line is a lot better than last year," Deno said. "Everyone on offense and defense has to contribute, but as the quarterback I have to take more control once in a while." Sanders understands his role is to get open, something he has done virtually at will.

"My mentality is the same in football as it is in basketball," Sanders said.

"No one can guard me."

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