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El Toro Is Feeling Its Oates

Rich Oates, while often overlooked as the Chargers' starting running back, should not be underestimated.


LAKE FOREST — Murle Sango rushed for more than 1,200 yards, caught 69 passes for nearly 900 yards and scored 22 touchdowns last year. He might be the most fun offensive player in the county to watch.

Opponents have discovered Sango is an easy player to miss on the field. Just as easy as Rich Oates.

Oates is the other guy in El Toro's backfield, the starting running back in the Chargers' one-back offense. He is easy to miss in two ways: One, he is also tough to tackle; two, he is often overlooked.

Oates played third banana on El Toro's Southern Section Division V championship team last year, easily overshadowed by Sango's heroics and quarterback Steve Krupp's 66.2% completion average.

"I didn't pay that much attention to the articles," Oates, a senior, said. "I had one goal, and that was to do my best on the football field.

"Murle's a great runner, and it works out pretty well because I'm not too good in interviews. He can have the headlines, definitely."

Oates rushed 161 times for 1,347 yards (8.4 per carry) and 17 touchdowns. Not bad for someone dancing in the shadows of the Sango Tango, the description given to one of Sango's scoring runs.

"As a third weapon," El Toro Coach Mike Milner said of Oates, "he's pretty productive."

Sango, a Times all-County running back, has noticed the inequity in Oates' public recognition.

"He's a real quiet guy, not real outspoken--he just goes out and plays the game," Sango said. "Rich doesn't talk about it. He shows up at game time ready to play. But he's not really noticed by people. He's kind of back in the shadows."

Sango says Oates' relative anonymity is a benefit and a hindrance.

"It's a benefit because a lot of teams don't think of Rich as a threat--they underrate him," Sango said. "He's real fast and surprised people last year, so that's good for him. But in the other way, he deserves a little credit for what he does, and he should get some publicity for it."

Oates is only 5-feet-9, 165 pounds, so he was a little surprised the other day when he received a Colorado media guide in the mail. "I don't think they know how big I am, yet," Oates joked. "But I'm going to live in the weight room."

For El Toro to repeat as champion, it needs another strong performance by Oates, who will be counted on even more heavily with the Chargers lacking a varsity-tested quarterback.

Oates' contribution to El Toro's section title victory won't be lost on his teammates. Oates rushed 12 times for 90 yards, including a 25-yard scoring run that gave El Toro a 14-3 lead in an eventual 27-17 victory over Servite.

He rushed for 148 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown run, and set up another with a 51-yard carry, in a 41-23 victory over unbeaten Western in the semifinals. He also had 133 yards in the quarterfinals and 151 yards and two touchdowns in the first round (a 24-14 victory over Savanna).

Get the idea? Sea View League coaches unanimously voted him to the all-league team. Although Sango spells Oates at tailback, Sango also lines up at wide receiver or inside slot back, which creates a lot of options.

In contrast to Sango, Oates' versatility comes in his style.

"I can be physical or I can make a move on you," Oates said. "It all depends on the situation."

Milner agrees: "He's got the abilities of several prototypes of running backs. On one play, he may look really big and be very physical. On the next play, with 4.6 [40-yard dash] speed, he has the ability to accelerate and run away from people. And at times he's a slasher, a finesse type. So you may see him run over a guy, you may see him dupe the guy, or you may see him just run past the guy."

And if there are no public accolades for all that yardage?

"I won't feel overshadowed at all," Oates said. "I try to be my own person, the one that doesn't follow the crowd. I don't want to succumb to peer pressure. That's one of the most important things--be your own person, be a leader in your personal life, not a follower."

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