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After Helping Refine the High-Powered Offense at Valley College, Gary Barlow Gets His Chance to Call the Shots


VAN NUYS — Gary Barlow didn't get much sleep during his brief stint playing for the New York Giants. Job insecurity can take a heavy toll on an undersized, apprehensive free-agent offensive lineman.

"I got myself so wound up, I couldn't eat and I couldn't sleep," Barlow said. "I went from 285 [pounds] to 255 in camp. I got so caught up in the playbook, I'd lay in bed at night, turning page after page in my brain."

The plays that didn't pertain to Barlow's role seemed to interest him as much as the ones that did. But that has always been the case for Barlow, who played for six college and two professional coaches--including Bill Parcells.

Barlow was cut by the Giants during the preseason and played two seasons with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League of American Football. But he insatiately digested influences from all of his mentors, parlaying his curiosity and comprehension into a job as offensive coordinator at Valley College, a post he has held the past four years.

Now, a page having turned at Valley, Barlow not only will call the plays but also the shots.

Barlow, 30, enters his first season as the Monarchs' head coach, replacing Jim Fenwick, who resigned to become coach at Cal State Northridge. Fenwick led Valley to a 49-14-1 record in six seasons and transformed the Monarchs into a national junior-college power. Valley, 10-1 in each of the past three seasons, has appeared in four consecutive bowl games.

"Gary is stepping into some big shoes and there are very high expectations for this program," said Chuck Ferrero, Valley's athletic director and former football coach. "Obviously, this program has been known for its offense, and it's his offense.

"He's a real thinker, one of the great young minds, offensively, in football."

Barlow, a former assistant at San Joaquin Delta College in his native Stockton, declined Fenwick's offer to join the Northridge staff. He opted instead to assume his first head-coaching position and further develop one of the state's most prolific offenses.

"I was disappointed that he didn't want to, but I understand," Fenwick said. "He's always been a student of the game and that's an ingredient you need to have to become a head coach. When he came to Valley, he was familiar with the run-and-shoot stuff, so we kind of gravitated toward that direction. His responsibility began to grow."

Valley's run-and-shoot--a rapid-paced, no-huddle attack that keeps the chains moving and defenses reeling--has been honed to near-perfection under Barlow.

Last season, which culminated with a 37-25 victory over Hancock in the Western State Bowl, the Monarchs averaged 45.5 points and 441 yards a game. Quarterback Dave Lins, now at San Diego State, led the nation in passing efficiency while attempting as many as 50 passes a game.

Aaron Flowers, now starting quarterback at Northridge, likewise thrived at Valley, passing for 3,135 yards and 26 touchdowns as a sophomore in 1995.

"It was fun to play," Flowers said. "We would huddle only within the five-yard line or on short-yardage stuff."

The rapid-fire approach almost seems a contradiction for Barlow, who speaks slowly and softly, and is openly conscientious about being credited too much for Valley's success.

"I like to think that I've had something to do with our success here," he said. "But I'm not the only reason."

Then again, Barlow, who doodles plays on scraps of paper in his spare time, eschews the run-and-shoot label. The scheme, he said, is more a hybrid of methods he has learned over the years.

"What we do here is not necessarily one type of offense," Barlow said. "It's kind of a fusion of about three underlying ideas that I really feel strongly about and thought when I got here that I could put them all together.

"Basically, it's real simple: we're going to be where the defense isn't. And that's where we're going to throw the ball."

Taking flight should continue to take Valley far. The Monarchs are ranked sixth in the state poll and eighth in the nation by one publication.

Pulling the trigger will be sophomore Tom Racius, a backup last season who passed for 424 yards and six touchdowns.

"Not much has changed at all," Racius said. "We're still going to go and go. It takes a lot of practice, but for a quarterback, it's the way to go. I've learned so much in the last year and a half."

Barlow still is learning. A former All-Big West Conference lineman at University of the Pacific, he has coached the offensive line at Valley throughout his tenure and he intends to continue in that role.

Barlow spends long hours away from his wife and two young children, and his office is cluttered with stacks of paperwork and videotapes. Shut-eye is in short supply.

But Barlow--ever the workaholic--is not complaining.

"To be very honest, I'm not very efficient right now," he said. "Not by lack of effort, just because it's new to me. But I'm getting better."


A Closer Look

* CAPSULES: A glance at each junior college team in the Valley/Ventura County region. C8

* SCHEDULE: A log of each opponent. C8

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