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His Time Has Come to Pass : College football: Fifth-year senior Millis finally gets chance to start at quarterback and in doing so ushers in Baldwin coaching era at Northridge.

August 23, 1995|JEFF FLETCHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — Clayton Millis dreamed of being a starting college quarterback when he graduated from Arroyo Grande High.

Now, more than four years later, he finally has a chance.

"I'm ecstatic," said Millis, who is likely to take the first snap of Cal State Northridge's season Sept. 9 against Menlo College. "It's something that's been kind of a long time coming."

Millis (6 feet 5, 216 pounds) spent two seasons on the bench at Oregon--one as a redshirt--and two years backing up J.J. O'Laughlin at Northridge. But, as the likely starter this season, he will be the quarterback who brings the Matadors into the Dave Baldwin era.

In his first season as coach at Northridge, Baldwin is installing a complicated, pass-oriented offense that will rely heavily on Millis to make it go.

"It's been confusing just to get the formations down because they are throwing so much at us," Millis said. "But once you get the concepts down and get into the playbook a little bit it's something you can really grasp.

"And if we are all on the same page it's a heck of an offense."

Baldwin said the key to running the offense is a quarterback who can move his feet and get rid of the ball in a hurry.

The latter area is the one in which Millis needs to improve, Baldwin said.

"He needs to work on getting the ball there quicker and anticipating rather than seeing it open up," Baldwin said. "In the quick passing game, if you see it open up, it's too late."

Millis' strength, though, is his experience. Although he hasn't played much, starting only three games in his college career, he has been around.

"He looks like he's about 40 years old," Baldwin said. "He's got a bald head. The whole deal. He doesn't look like a typical quarterback."

Millis first signed with Oregon out of Arroyo Grande. He was redshirted for a season and spent another season on the bench, although he did make the Ducks' traveling squad.

In the summer of 1993, Millis transferred to Northridge because he wanted a better shot at starting. He was the No. 2 quarterback, behind Coley Kyman, as the Matadors opened the season against San Diego State.

When Kyman went down with a season-ending injury in that game, Millis seemed on the verge of taking over. But, as Millis found out later, a former Illinois quarterback who was transferring to Northridge in search of playing time was in the stands watching the San Diego State game.

It was J.J. O'Laughlin.

"It was disappointing at first but J.J. was a great quarterback," Millis said. "It was close between us, but he had some big games and just held on to it after that."

Millis started the week following the San Diego State game, but he was just keeping the position warm while O'Laughlin settled into the offense. Millis started two other games in 1993, when O'Laughlin was hurt, and he came off the bench in seven games in 1994.

In only two years, O'Laughlin moved to third on the all-time Northridge passing list with 3,554 yards.

As his understudy, Millis completed 48 of 106 passes for 429 yards in parts of 14 games.

*

Although Millis might not be the dream quarterback on whom to place the hopes of your first season as a Division I coach, he's the best Baldwin has. None of the other quarterbacks in camp has thrown a pass in a game at Northridge.

Among the best candidates to fill the position in the future is Josh Fiske, a freshman from Santa Ynez High. Fiske was one of the first players Baldwin recruited after he was hired in May.

Fiske is talented but far from comfortable in the Northridge offense because he ran a veer in high school, Baldwin said.

Sophomore Derek Brown, who ran an offense similar to Baldwin's at Mayfair High in Lakewood, might also be a good prospect.

But for now, the job seems to rest firmly in Millis' back pocket. And that's fine with Baldwin.

"There's something to say about that fifth-year senior," Baldwin said. "He's been a No. 3. He's been a No. 2. Maybe started a little because someone was hurt. And now it's his turn. I think the offensive line and the whole offense always feels good about that kid."

Confidence from your teammates is nice. More important for Millis, though, is confidence in himself, which he said has been boosted by finally getting a starting role.

"I think everything happens for a reason," he said. "I am just hoping that this season everything will come together for me and I can get back to playing a lot.

"I just hope it comes together this year."

Matador Notes

One of the most impressive freshman players in camp so far has been David San Vicente, a Birmingham High graduate. San Vicente was listed as the No. 1 right tackle on Baldwin's first depth chart. He was the only freshman among the projected offensive starters. . . . This might be a statement on the Matadors' inexperience: The player with the longest thumbnail sketch in the media guide is kicker Matt Ornelaz. . . . Because of the team's lack of depth, Baldwin said full-contact practices will be held only twice a week once the season starts. "If these guys are going to get hurt," Baldwin said, "I want it to be on Saturdays."

Northridge will conduct its first scrimmage at 10 a.m. Saturday at North Campus Stadium. . . . Two of the Matadors' first three games will be indoors. Northridge will play Sept. 16 in Idaho State's Holt Arena at Pocatello and Sept. 23 in Northern Arizona's Walkup Skydome at Flagstaff.

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