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PREP FOOTBALL '97: PACIFIC COAST LEAGUE

Dawkins Starting to Get Noticed at Last

Estancia running back considered among the county's elite after banner season.

September 09, 1997|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

COSTA MESA — James Dawkins averaged more yards per carry last season than Rancho Alamitos' Leo Kosi, Santa Margarita's Billy Newman and Laguna Hills' Michael Jones.

Newman averaged nearly 1 1/2 yards less. And he was the closest of the three.

Dawkins, one of the unheralded running backs in the county and overshadowed in a league that has Jones challenging the county's all-time rushing-yardage record, may be on the brink of a huge season.

OK, some say Estancia doesn't play a very strong nonleague schedule.

"Me and some of the players would like to play maybe three of the top 10 teams in the county," he said. "There's no way to get better if you beat someone, 50-0. My stats might fall a bit, but who knows?"

Estancia Coach John Liebengood, defending his schedule, cited a small enrollment: "We compete against teams that are equivalent to where we are." But he thinks he knows the answer to Dawkins' question.

"I think if you put [Dawkins] at Mater Dei or some of the power schools--Esperanza, Los Alamitos--he would perform as well as he is now," Liebengood said. "He has all the qualities."

Such as quick acceleration and stopping on a dime. Not to mention nice open field moves and, his coach says, 4.65 speed in the 40.

"One-on-one with a defensive back," Liebengood said of Dawkins, "the majority of the time, he's going to win it."

That was evident last year when Dawkins obliterated the school's single-season rushing record.

First, he told former teammate Bachy Gonzalez (who set the record in 1995 with 1,211 yards) he was going to break it, and then made good on the promise with a 247-yard performance against Laguna Beach in Week 9.

Dawkins' end-of-year numbers were impressive. He gained 1,483 yards in 144 carries--a 10.3 average. He scored 14 touchdowns to help Estancia set a school scoring record with 294 points--12 more than the record set a year earlier.

The Eagles' scoring coincided with the switch to the double wing offense--two tight ends, a fullback and two wing backs. One of the wing backs--Dawkins' position--is always in motion, so he often gets a running start at the defense.

Estancia runs only six plays. Last year, its passing attack was virtually nil.

"If we could throw out of that," Liebengood said, "it would create even bigger holes."

And if defenses were kept honest, who knows how much Dawkins might rush for?

"I think he'll break the school record again," Liebengood said. "I think he's one of the top five backs in the county."

Recruiters tell the coach they like what they see. But Dawkins, a senior, needs to continue to show the kind of maturity that has been more evident the last six months, Liebengood said.

"He shows all the potential of being a good running back," Liebengood said. "He's even bigger and stronger now. There probably isn't an inch of fat on him."

But in the classroom, Dawkins is still working to improve.

"He can be sarcastic and some teachers don't like him," Liebengood said. "He had an English teacher who wrote him up three or four times [for detention] and he got out of there with a C. He's always talking, and he can be kind of a goof-off."

Said Dawkins: "Of all the teachers, he's probably the one I respected the most. He never let me get away with anything. I've grown up a bit. Toward the end of my junior year, I realized I could actually go to college and play football. Nothing is given to you. You have to work for it."

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