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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Playing Catch-Up

Taft's Wallace Compensates for Time He Lost Because of Injury

November 13, 1998|MICHAEL LAZARUS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WOODLAND HILLS — Lawrence Wallace isn't used to going half-speed, even when it comes to returning from an injury.

The Taft High wide receiver and defensive back was part of the 1,600-meter relay team that won the City Section title and finished second in the state championships last spring.

Wallace was establishing himself as a premier receiver when a broken left hand sidelined him for four games, which made his return two weeks ago against Chatsworth such a frustrating experience.

Playing for the first time in a month, Wallace caught only three passes and didn't play on defense until the second half.

"I played terrible," Wallace said. "Maybe I came back a week too early. But waiting and not playing was worse."

Wallace may have been right. The next week, he caught 10 passes for a career-best 222 yards and five touchdowns in a 42-0 rout over El Camino Real, erasing any doubt about his health.

He outraced the coverage and scored on a 74-yard pass play on the first play from scrimmage. And he showed his elusiveness by breaking two tackles and turning a screen pass into a 20-yard touchdown.

"As I go through the season, there are three or four guys who stick out in my mind as being the best," said Coach Rick Hayashida of El Camino Real. "Wallace is right up there."

The return of Wallace, 6 feet and 173 pounds, comes at a critical time for Taft (8-1, 6-0 in Northwest Valley Conference play).

The Toreadors host Granada Hills (9-0, 6-0) at 7 tonight to decide the conference championship. Taft has won 21 consecutive conference games, a streak that dates to 1995.

Wallace's duties will include defending against a Granada Hills passing attack that sometimes features four wide receivers.

Wallace's return coincides with the loss of another top receiver and defensive back for Taft.

Ronald Andrews, who had 24 receptions and two interceptions, was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons last week.

The Toreadors hope Wallace can pick up the slack. In five games, he has 39 receptions for 619 yards and has scored nine touchdowns.

If Taft can reach the City final for the third consecutive season, and if Wallace maintains his reception pace, he can break the school season record of 73 catches set by Damon Coleman in 1996.

Wallace can carry the Toreadors if needed. His performance against El Camino Real might have been only his third-best of the season.

Wallace caught seven passes for 180 yards, had two touchdowns and intercepted three passes in a 38-22 victory over Crenshaw. He had two touchdowns called back because of penalties.

The next week against Dorsey, Wallace caught 12 passes and scored two touchdowns in a 21-0 victory.

But Wallace's season changed three days later, when he broke his left hand in a defensive drill.

"I just kept trying to touch it," Coach Troy Starr of Taft said of Wallace's injury. "I was hoping it would just go away."

Wallace wears a protective glove with extra padding on his left hand.

"I don't like to wear gloves," he said. "It took a week for me to get used to it."

Wallace hasn't always been a dependable player for the Toreadors.

He didn't participate in spring practice after his sophomore year and he didn't emerge as a starting receiver until the middle of his junior season.

He finished with 23 receptions for 297 yards and four touchdowns last year, with most of his playing time coming in the playoffs.

"He needed to take some time to mature and he finally did," Starr said. "We all probably wish it happened two years ago, but we're glad it happened now."

Wallace also has battled asthma. He carries an inhaler at practice and during games.

"It's not a problem," Wallace said. "I use [the inhaler] before it gets bad. I have been using it a little more this week. This is a big week."

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