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Ups and Downs of the Prep Sports Year

Members of The Times Orange County prep sports staff share their memories of the people, events and issues of the past school year. : Still Improving

June 17, 1997|MIKE TERRY

When watching a young athlete perform at peak level two thoughts always cross your mind.

This may be the best he or she will ever be. Or he or she is ready to move on to bigger challenges.

After watching Mater Dei's Rod Perry Jr. single-handedly destroy four playoff teams in helping Mater Dei win its second Division I football championship in the last three years, I believe he is in the latter category.

I also believe those of us lucky to have watched him at wide receiver during the Monarchs' 1996 title run will be saying several years from now we saw the beginning of something special.

To be sure, Perry is genetically blessed. His father, Rod Perry Sr., was an NFL cornerback who had some of his best years with the then Los Angeles Rams. Among the athletic skills he passed along to his son were speed and great hands. He also taught his son that great talent is wasted unless honed by hard work and total effort.

It's not that Perry came of age in the playoffs. He had a tremendous season, leading the county in receiving with 78 catches for 1,493 yards and 19 touchdowns. He was a Times all-county first-team selection and was named the state player of the year by Cal-Hi Sports.

But playoffs and championship games create the longest memories. And Perry's four playoff games had to be seen to be appreciated.

It began against Long Beach Jordan, a team Mater Dei had crushed, 38-0, in the second game of the season. Understandably flat, the Monarchs were clinging to a 28-21 lead with 6:55 in the third quarter when quarterback Nick Stremick hit Perry for touchdown passes measuring 12, 64 and 34 yards, turning a close game into a 48-21 rout. Perry finished with five catches for 109 yards.

Defensively Jordan did the intelligent thing, double-covering Perry at every opportunity. The defensive coaches at Redlands, Long Beach Poly and Los Angeles Loyola--Mater Dei's last three opponents--were arrogant enough to expect their cornerbacks could handle Perry one on one.

All three teams paid dearly for that thinking.

Redlands also hoped the Thanksgiving holiday and the hour-plus bus ride from Santa Ana to Redlands would take some of the spring out of Perry's legs. Perry was so dulled he caught seven passes for 132 yards. Two were for touchdowns of 34 and 54 yards. He scored another on 27-yard reverse that sealed the 34-14 Monarch victory in the fourth quarter.

In the semifinals, Long Beach Poly was positive its star receiver and defensive back Ken-Yon Rambo--one of the fastest hurdlers in the state--would shut down Perry. It was the other way around. Perry torched Rambo and the rest of the Jackrabbit secondary for seven catches and 178 yards. In the second quarter he hauled in touchdown passes of 47 and 43 yards to push Mater Dei to a 28-7 halftime lead en route to a 42-13 victory.

Rambo caught one pass for 29 yards.

The championship game in the Coliseum against Loyola would provide Mater Dei with its most severe test of the season. The Monarchs' 17-0 victory--in which they scored all their points in the first half--was in doubt until the defense forced Loyola to punt with 71 seconds to play.

But Perry's greatness was never in doubt. He gave Mater Dei the lead for good with a 47-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter. For the game he caught six passes for 82 yards.

In four playoff games--the toughest part of the season, when most players are tired and hobbling from the previous 10 games--Perry caught 25 passes for 501 yards, an average of 20 yards a catch. He scored nine touchdowns, and every one of them seemed to break the opponent's will.

Perry is headed to USC. Some people will say that, at 5-10 and 180 pounds, he's too small for Division I college football.

I imagine those same people thought Jerry Rice was too slow to play in the NFL.

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