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PREP FOOTBALL '97: EMPIRE LEAGUE

Nord Wants to Prove Success Is No Fluke

Quarterback helped El Dorado rebound from tough start in time to win league title in 1996. He hopes to learn from his experience.

September 09, 1997|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

El Dorado was halfway through the 1996 football season, and it appeared to be the toughest season of Mitch Nord's young life.

The Hawks, trying to recover from seasons in which they went 0-10 and 2-8, were 0-5 going into Empire League play. But the Hawks were plagued by turnovers--"at least 20," in their first five games--Nord said--which was undermining the team's confidence.

Nord, then a sophomore, had become the starting quarterback midway through the fourth game against La Verne Damien. But he was not comfortable executing the passing game, nor was he at ease telling the seniors how things should be done.

But in the league opener, things suddenly came together for El Dorado. Running back Steve Warfield rumbled for 234 yards and four touchdowns as the Hawks knocked off Loara, 27-14.

It was the beginning of a monumental turnaround, as El Dorado finished 5-0 in league play and captured the Empire League title.

"We had played good teams those first five games," Nord said, "but were in all of the games, so we were not discouraged.

"We didn't believe last year was a rebuilding year. We had just not played as good as we could. Beating Loara in the first game relaxed us, and then we just caught fire. That game got us going."

This season's goal is to prove the 1996 championship was not an accident. That El Dorado, still a fairly young team, is on the verge of good times rather than receding back into mediocrity.

Nord, 16, understands that even if Warfield matches his 1,303 yards and 18 touchdowns of last season, a good portion of the Hawks' fortunes ride on what kind of year he will have. And he understands that he will have to produce better numbers than last season--45 of 156, 560 yards, three touchdowns, 12 interceptions.

"Last year it took me a few games to get going," Nord said. "We were a running team, which was good because I was inexperienced. I got better as the year went on. I was able to make better decisions.

"This year I am more comfortable. I know I have to cut down on the interceptions. But we've got our receivers back, we have a good tight end and running backs we can throw to. We have a good system.

"Just don't turn the ball over."

El Dorado Coach Rick Jones--who alternated Nord and senior Mike Derisio until settling on Nord--said he has bigger expectations of his junior quarterback in 1997.

"He's shown us he is the kind of guy who learns things quickly, keeps his composure and can make things happen," Jones said. "By the end of last year he was holding his own. The last game against Kennedy [to win the league] was his best passing game.

"This year I want him to pick up where he left off; to keep growing, improving and show a little more leadership. We're also going to give him more options within our passing scheme. We think he's ready to handle it."

Nord is as ready to show what he can do.

"Last year, the best lesson I learned was not to listen to other people," Nord said. "When we were down 0-5 everyone at school said we would go 0-10. Even when we started winning people thought we weren't for real. So I worry more about what my team thinks.

"Our goals are to win league and go to playoffs, and maybe win the playoffs with some luck. For me, I'm going to cut down on the interceptions and make smarter decisions. At the beginning of last year people might have had problems taking orders from me. This year there won't be any of that. We are all in this together."

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