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Move to Tailback Fuels Buena Park Hopes

Once a struggling quarterback, McDonald gives the Coyotes reason for optimism.


BUENA PARK — When Manny Saiz accepted the head coaching position at Buena Park two years ago, he believed the team would have matured enough to contend for the 1997 Freeway League title--a championship the Coyotes have not claimed outright in more than two decades.

Two factors are fueling Saiz's hopes.

After going 0-5 in league in 1995, Buena Park improved to 3-2 in Freeway League play last year (4-7 overall), and made the playoffs. The bulk of that team returns this season.

The other is having a game-breaker at tailback.

Saiz is convinced he has one in Brian McDonald. Last year the 6-foot, 188-pound McDonald had one of the best seasons by a county player no one had heard of.

In 11 games, McDonald rushed for 1,477 yards--the 11th-highest total on The Times' statistical listings--and 21 touchdowns. And what excites Saiz is that 60% of the yards--892--came in McDonald's final six games.

"He's an explosive runner; the kind of guy you give the ball to often, because sooner or later he breaks a big one," Saiz said.

"Last year our offensive line was young and missed their blocking assignments early. As the season went on they jelled and he started having big numbers. So to beat us you have to stop him. I will find the way to get him the ball 30 times a game."

McDonald, 17, appreciates the faith--as well as a return to his favorite position.

As a sophomore he was a struggling option quarterback, completing only nine of 52 passes (six interceptions) for 99 yards, and running for 271 yards in 10 games. "I thought I would be a tailback first, but [then] Coach [Bob] Rau said he needed me at quarterback," McDonald said. "I did the running OK, but reading those [passing] defenses was hard."

Ruben Gasso became the Coyotes' quarterback last year, enabling McDonald to move back to running back. But he said he didn't become comfortable at the position until the seventh game, against La Habra.

McDonald rushed for 193 yards and five touchdowns in that game, and the Coyotes went on to upset the previously unbeaten Highlanders, 41-35.

That victory propelled a three-game winning streak that ushered the Coyotes into the Division VIII playoffs. "The La Habra game seemed like our coming-out party," McDonald said. "We'd had a good week of practice, and in the game everything was clicking. Our offensive line took control from the opening whistle."

McDonald had his biggest game of the year the following week against Fullerton, rushing for 240 yards and scoring three touchdowns in a 28-7 victory.

In that final six-game stretch, which began against Troy and ended against West Covina South Hills, McDonald was held below 100 yards only once, getting 79 against Troy.

He is as optimistic about Buena Park's league chances as is Saiz.

"The fact there is no dominant team in our league gives us inspiration," McDonald said. "Every year there has been a dark-horse team that surprises everybody. I hope this year it's us.

"We can challenge for the league. I know how hard we've worked to get [in position]. I believe in what we can do."

McDonald doesn't have to convince those who have seen him play of what he can do. He said Oregon State is ready to offer him a scholarship, and he's getting inquiries from Texas and Colorado. McDonald will know more of his college future after taking the SAT this fall.

When asked about the idea of joining his older brother, George, a wide receiver at Illinois, McDonald quickly declined. "It's too cold there, man," he said chuckling. "I'm a California kid; I need more sun."

The immediate goal, however, is to bring home an outright league championship.

"Coach Saiz says to make our own history," McDonald said. "Don't worry about the past but instead the future. But it has been a while since Buena Park won the title [outright]. That is our biggest driving point this season."

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