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PREP FOOTBALL '97: SEA VIEW LEAGUE

Minardi Quite a Catch for Santa Margarita

He provides the big plays on offense for high-powered Eagles and leads the defense in tackles.

September 09, 1997|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA — Newport Harbor Coach Jeff Brinkley remembers scouting Santa Margarita during its Southern Section semifinal game last year against Tustin. He distinctly remembers what happened when wide receiver John Minardi went to catch a ball.

"The Tustin kid just put a shot on him, but [Minardi] hung in there," Brinkley said. "That was impressive when he bounced up and went back to the huddle.

"He's a tough kid and catches the heck out of the ball."

A week later, Minardi caught three touchdown passes against Brinkley's Sailors in the Division V title game, leading Santa Margarita to a 38-0 victory.

And therein lies the story of Minardi, the senior wide receiver whose 42 catches gained 1,042 yards for the Eagles, a county-high 24.8 yards per catch.

He's a big-play guy.

"I know when I'm out there against a defender, and the ball is thrown, I know where the defender is, where I am and where I'm going to be," Minardi said. "And all I need to do is get the right positioning on the man to catch the ball. And I will catch the ball."

Minardi caught a flea-flicker on the opening play of the Eagles' championship victory over Newport Harbor for a 49-yard touchdown reception, followed with a 68-yard reception on a fake end around, and then lined up at tight end and caught a 38-yard scoring pass to make it 38-0 with 1:04 left in the first half.

"He's definitely a playmaker," Santa Margarita Coach Jim Hartigan said. "On several occasions last year, he made big plays to help us out of a bind or put a game away. He's a big-time player."

Colorado thought so. Coach Rick Neuheisel offered Minardi a scholarship, and the Santa Margarita senior made an oral commitment.

Minardi also plays free safety and led the team in tackles last year. The Eagles outscored four playoff opponents 158-6, and nine players return to the defensive unit. Minardi was also the holder on special teams and was the backup return man.

"Defensively, he's the best tackler on the team," Hartigan said. "As a receiver, he could be a better blocker, but he's also playing both ways. . . . I don't want him to kill himself trying to block a guy 40 yards from the ball and then be dead tired when we need him.

"If he can't get there, we're not going to be all over him."

Even when defenders are all over him--and even when they aren't--Minardi has an uncanny knack for coming up with the ball.

"John is the man," said quarterback Carson Palmer, one of the nation's top prospects. "He won't drop a ball. If I throw it anywhere near him, he'll come down with it. He's a winner. You can't stop the guy."

And that's the dilemma Santa Margarita and its opponents face. Opponents know Santa Margarita will throw to Minardi, and the Eagles know teams will be looking for him. Minardi's not bothered.

"We have lot of good receivers on our team," Minardi said. "If a team tries to double on me, it will open more holes and Carson has more options. We'll just kill defenses if they try to double-cover anybody on our team."

Hartigan says Minardi's ability to get open deep and come down with the ball even when he's covered is what makes him the threat that he is. Plus . . .

"He has great anticipation of how the ball is going to come down out of the air," Hartigan explained, "and great perception of where the ball is going to end up--over his right shoulder, left shoulder, over his head."

Minardi admits he loves defense. But he also loves offense.

"I love catching the ball," he said. "I love being the playmaker."

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