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PAIGE A. LEECH

There Is Something in the Air at Paraclete

July 31, 1998|PAIGE A. LEECH

Three yards and a cloud of dust. . . .

That's been the philosophy of football Coach Steve Hagerty since he took over at Paraclete High in 1992 after a six-year stint as an assistant at Bishop Amat.

It's a philosophy that he has stuck with through good times and bad, with the big payoff coming last season when Paraclete--making its first championship appearance in 30 years--won a Southern Section Division XI title.

Yet, the time has come, Hagerty said, to try something different.

This season, run-happy Paraclete, which relied on the run for more than 67% of its offense the last two seasons, will employ a variation of a run-and-shoot offense. That is, of course, as long as Hagerty can stop waking up in a cold sweat.

"For me, it's kind of a radical [change]," he said. "I wake up shivering at night."

Hagerty, The Times' Valley coach of the year last season, decided to change his offense after evaluating his personnel in the spring. His roster is no longer peppered with decent lineman and explosive running backs.

Twenty of the 38 players from the 13-1 team last season have graduated. While a good group of backs and receivers remain, Paraclete is deficient in the trenches.

"With the people we were left with, there is really nothing up front," he said.

"We're usually slow and lumbering, but had the guys who could move people around. We always knew we could get three yards when we needed it. This year we don't have that."

Instead, Hagerty is left with what he hopes will be the key ingredients of a potent passing attack.

"You're stupid if you can't make the system fit the kids," he said. "If I was wrong, it would be in the evaluation of the personnel."

Junior quarterback Robert Fockaert, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound two-sport athlete, has impressed Hagerty with his athleticism, speed and headiness. And he isn't exactly wet behind the ears. Fockaert, the Spirits' starting shortstop, started all four postseason games last season.

"He took us through the four toughest games we had," Hagerty said.

Fockaert has several experienced targets, including seniors Tommy Breech, Josh White, Jeff Arroyo and Jordan Aquino.

The best receiver, however, might be sophomore Michael Washington, a younger brother of Dominic Washington, who rushed for 1,805 yards and 23 touchdowns last season.

"As a quarterback, I'd love to throw to him in this system," Hagerty said. "My five-yard throw is going to turn into a 50-yard gain with him."

In June, Hagerty sought the advice of the area's most obvious passing gurus, Hart coaches Mike, Dean and Rick Herrington, who have built one of the region's most successful programs.

As if gathering information for a research paper, Hagerty said he watched Hart practice and picked the brains of the Herrington trio.

"When I walked away from there, I was left thinking that it isn't really difficult material, but it's coached consistently on a daily basis," Hagerty said.

"I can tell that it isn't that they are smarter than anyone else, but that they do it on a daily basis."

Consistency is something Hagerty hopes he is worthy of.

"I know when I get inside the 10-yard line, I'll want to [run] it in," Hagerty said.

With the old standby offense so close to Hagerty's heart, Paraclete's formation will differ from a true run and shoot in that the Spirits will have a tight end--mainly because Hagerty isn't ready to completely let go of his past.

"We're not going to spread out and abandon the run completely," Hagerty said. "We still want to have a run strength side."

Although Hagerty doesn't believe 7-on-7 summer passing leagues and tournaments are a good indication, the Spirits appear on track with their new scheme. In a tournament in the Antelope Valley last weekend, Paraclete defeated Lancaster and Crespi before losing to Quartz Hill in the championship game.

The true test comes when the season begins in September.

"When things don't go well, I know I'm going to want to switch back," he said. "I think you have to do it a while to really feel comfortable with it.

"It's hard to find all the answers in one season."

*

The California Valley Heat, a 15-and-under baseball team made up of freshmen and sophomores from Chatsworth, Kennedy, Granada Hills and El Camino Real highs, begins play Saturday in the Amateur Athletic Union National Invitational in Kingsport, Tenn.

The Valley Heat qualified for the 36-team tournament in January on the strength of pitchers Brandon Burton and Tim St. Pierre of Kennedy.

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