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PREP FOOTBALL '97: CENTURY LEAGUE

Spartans Plan Attack With Versatile Wann

Villa Park strong safety/running back can hurt the opposition all over the field.

September 09, 1997|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

VILLA PARK — Coach Pat Mahoney has seen this before.

"He's a little bigger, he's kind of quiet and doesn't speak too much," Mahoney says of Ryan Wann, a 6-1, 192-pound senior strong safety/running back at Villa Park High.

"He's a leader by example, he plays through pain," Mahoney said. "And he's a big hitter, just like Pearsall."

That's Grant Pearsall, who was USC's starting strong safety last season as a junior. When Pearsall roamed the field at Villa Park High from 1991-93, he was the Spartans' all-everything player. As a senior, he rushed for 1,551 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.

And he didn't miss many downs, on offense or defense.

"Ryan has that same tenacity," Mahoney said. "He never wants to leave the field."

And Mahoney is accommodating Wann this season.

Mahoney hopes Wann can help lead the Spartans to another league title. Though injuries have made Mahoney alter his initial plans, he knows he's lucky to have Wann around to throw into any breaches.

"Ryan has that great attitude," Mahoney said. "He'll do whatever it takes for the team to win."

The Spartans have taken advantage of Wann's versatility. As a sophomore, Wann played a lot at linebacker. Last season, he began as the team's starting quarterback, then began playing defense full-time and shifted to running back.

But last season's 3-7 record is something Wann and his teammates would like to forget.

"Hopefully, it made us tougher mentally," Wann said. "No one thinks about last season anymore."

It's easy to understand why.

The Spartans entered the season with high expectations, but watched the season dissolve into a series of close, hard-fought losses. Villa Park lost five of six games that were decided by a touchdown or less.

After losing the season opener to Valencia, 16-14, Villa Park split its next four games heading into league play. Then the season began to unravel.

On Oct. 18, Villa Park trailed Orange, 21-14, but forced a turnover with three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Spartans moved to the Orange two with 40 seconds left, but running back Dache Dameron was tackled for a six-yard loss on fourth and goal. The following week, Villa Park lost to Canyon, 10-3, after failing to score on fourth and goal at the two with three seconds left.

Following a convincing victory over Santa Ana Valley, Villa Park failed in its last shot at making the playoffs, losing to Foothill, 27-23, after holding a 10-point third-quarter lead.

"It was frustrating," Wann said. "We could have easily been 7-3. It was a weird season."

But that frustration has driven Wann and his teammates. This season, they are looking for redemption.

"I think we'll surprise some people," Wann said.

Wann may surprise some because Mahoney plans to keep Wann at a running back for most of the season while Matt Jackson plays quarterback full time. Wann said he'll enjoy concentrating on one offensive position, but he knows that could change.

Still, he doesn't mind. He'd rather play defense anyway.

And that's where most colleges are recruiting Wann. Pac-10 schools including Washington and Oregon have shown interest as well as Colorado. Pearsall received similar recruiting attention.

"It's nice getting compared to Grant," Wann said. "But I want to be my own player."

And Wann is shooting for something Pearsall couldn't do. Win two Century League championships.

"Ryan's future is probably as a strong safety," Mahoney said. "But he's our ironman right now. We need him on the field."

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