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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Czernek Learns Summer's Lessons

July 18, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — This strange game played with no pads, no blocking, no tackling and few spectators remains crucial to the development of Nick Czernek.

It might be 7-on-7, the un-football, but to the Newbury Park High quarterback it is the less-than-dress rehearsal needed for survival in the fall.

"This is when you develop timing with the receivers and gain confidence," Czernek said. "You find out who the go-to guy is.

"It's also fun when you win."

The Cal Lutheran 7-on-7 Passing Clinic on Friday provided Czernek with three games' worth of lessons.

* Timing and confidence: Up and down as the day progressed from a tie against St. Bonaventure to a victory over San Marcos and a loss to Crenshaw. The 16-team tournament concludes today with each team guaranteed of at least two more games.

* Go-to guy: Will Svitek, a nationally ranked decathlete, appears to be on his way to becoming at least a locally known receiver. The rangy Svitek, who will be a junior in September, made several catches in traffic and is gaining proficiency at the patented Panther fade route.

Czernek's improvement over three years can be charted by these sweltering summer days seemingly light years from the the excitement of fall Friday nights.

As a sophomore, he was Panther quarterback Chris Czernek's kid brother trying to make the varsity as a receiver. He did, and made 30 receptions.

As a junior, he replaced Chris, who set nearly every school and Ventura County record. Most of Nick's teammates were seniors and he gained their trust by displaying a strong and accurate arm during the summer.

The momentum carried into the season and he led Newbury Park to a 10-0 regular-season record and the Marmonte League championship. All the work that began in the summer was worth it.

Although the Panthers lost to Arroyo Grande, 54-38, in the first round of the playoffs, Czernek passed for a county-record 498 yards to finish the season with 3,358.

But--and this is the big but that haunts him--Czernek had six passes intercepted in the game. The memory spurs him on this summer.

"I learned to play during the summers the past two years," he said. "This year I'm reading defenses better. That should cut down on the interceptions."

And as a senior, he must lead as well as perform.

The Panthers' receiving corp is inexperienced with the graduation of Jake Farrel and Paul Sanford. Tyler Johnson, who had 42 catches last season, hasn't attended any passing league games and might give up football to concentrate on baseball.

"With so many new receivers, we haven't done too well, but we are taking steps forward," Czernek said.

That's what the summer is all about. Besides Svitek, several receivers are getting a grasp of the offense--as well as the ball--during passing league games.

"We started the summer horribly and are getting progressively better," Coach George Hurley said. "The real good teams still beat us. But we're at a point where we are better than the average teams.

"We have a number of kids competing at receiver and summer games provide a process of elimination. We see who can and can't play."

Senior Cause Hannah caught a long touchdown pass against San Marcos. Sophomore Scott Wyly, a transfer from Thousand Oaks and Czernek's heir apparent at quarterback in 1999, is doing well at receiver and defensive back.

Another receiver gaining familiarity with Czernek is senior Brian Swett, who had six catches for 132 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time last season.

"Passing league is the best thing any team can do this time of year," Swett said. "It is helping my game a ton. I didn't have much opportunity to get my timing down with Nick last year because he was working mostly with the seniors. Now we are on the same page."

Czernek's improvement, while not dramatic, has been steady.

"He's been in the weight room and on the field all summer," Swett said. "He's gotten bigger and he has a lot more confidence. It's coming easier to him this year."

Certainly, Czernek is more sure of himself. But bigger? He said he's 6 feet 1, 165 pounds, which is 10 pounds lighter than he was listed in the program last season.

Maybe it's the time spent running up and down the basketball court. Czernek was a reserve on the Panthers' league championship team last season, and he plays in a summer league on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Then it's back to his first love. Because Newbury Park throws the ball on three of every four plays, most of the offense can be honed during the summer. Plays are added and kinks are ironed out.

The only question left for Czernek will be his line--only guard Anthony Foli returns among the starters. Not until everyone straps on the gear will those answers emerge.

"My receivers I know are improving, but the line I have no idea," he said. "That's the one thing you can't learn in summer passing league."

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