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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Customized Bentley

Montclair Prep's Bruising Linebacker Has Many Sides

July 17, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTH HILLS — The guy who dyed his hair blond with purple stripes before playing in a basketball game is up at 5:30 every morning for four-hour workouts with a personal trainer.

The guy who wore a different-colored sock on each foot during basketball games accepted a football scholarship from Northwestern over offers from Cal and Arizona State because, during a campus visit, he was impressed by the players' sincere interest in academics.

The guy who reveled in his reputation as the Dennis Rodman of the Valley spends evenings in his room religiously doing 700 push-ups.

Kevin Bentley is a fast-walking, rapid-talking contradiction, a mix of mischievous grin and no-nonsense grimace.

Maybe it was basketball that brought out the clown in him. Football is Bentley's primary sport, the one he will play at Northwestern and the one he will play Friday night for the East team in the Valley Youth Conference All-Star game at Birmingham High.

On the field, the laughter stops and the real fun begins. No ballcarrier the 6-foot-2, 215-pound inside linebacker tackles stands up with a smile.

"I love to play the game and the most-fun part is hitting running backs," Bentley said. "Fast ones, big, slow ones, every kind there is. Once I'm on the field, that's my world there. It's all about business."

Appropriately, he begins by punching the clock.

While his friends sleep in on languid summer days, Bentley bounds from bed and spends all morning training with Olad, a strength coach and martial arts instructor who works with several Montclair Prep athletes.

"We work on mental strength, conserving and maximizing energy, all sorts of things I'd never learn anywhere else," Bentley said.

Keeping an open mind is one of his strengths. Every college he considered excited him almost to a fault, and he exuberantly told friends he was attending Arizona State and Cal after returning from official visits.

But when he checked out Northwestern, he knew it was the place for him. Bentley, who had a 3.9 grade-point average his senior year, plans to study business and computer science.

"At first I wanted to go to a Pac-10 school and stay close to home because my mom had some deaths in the family," he said. "But things got better and when I took the Big Ten-trip trip, I loved the fact that it felt like a smaller school.

"Academically, I couldn't go wrong. And football-wise, I have a chance to play a lot as a freshman."

And meet some quality running backs face-to-face.

"I love smash-mouth football and the Big Ten is a run-oriented conference," he said. "I'd rather tackle a running back than cover a receiver any day."

In the all-star game between the Southern Section and City Section last month, Bentley made eight tackles and had a sack. He doesn't mind running around every day at practice at Monroe High in full gear in the summer heat.

"My mind changes when I get on the field," he said. "I put everything out of my mind. That's my world out there."

Spectators during Montclair Prep basketball games wondered what world Bentley was from when he showed up with a different colored hair game after game.

Basketball was his top sport until he transferred from Chatsworth midway through his sophomore year. At Montclair Prep, it gave him a chance to display the, er, colorful side of his personality.

"I'd use way-out colors," Bentley said. "I'd come up with crazy ideas and go with it. That's just me. It's the way I feel about Rodman. As long as you do your job, it doesn't matter what you look like."

To recruiters, Bentley looked every bit like a prospect. Montclair Prep Coach George Giannini, the East coach in the All-Star game, said those looks didn't deceive.

"He'll talk until you drop and he's got that great smile," Giannini said. "But he's smart enough and tough enough to excel in college. The most impressive thing about Kevin is that he's working out all summer on his own. He's getting better while a lot of guys are enjoying their summer."

To Bentley the work is enjoyable, as fun as wearing wacky socks or shocking the crowd with hair to dye for.

"I'll do anything to get better and I'll be smiling the whole time I'm doing it," he said. "That's the only way to be. It's the only way I know how to be."

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