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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Center Stage

When Curtain Rises, Arnold Performs Artistry for Matadors

November 14, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — The football and the receiver converge at the same spot, the player making one of his typically theatrical grabs.

It's show time for Aaron Arnold.

The canned R&B sound fills the air, the four singers putting words and feeling to the music.

It's show time for Aaron Arnold.

Whether on the field with the Cal State Northridge Matadors or on stage, Arnold loves to perform.

"I like to entertain people," Arnold said. "I'm always a little nervous until the first play [in a football game] and I'm nervous until I hit that first note, then I'm OK."

Everyone should have such jitters.

Arnold does quite well with the Matadors (6-3), who play a nonconference game against Southwest Missouri State (5-4) today in Springfield, Mo. And he is working to become a better singer.

Arnold, a junior from Monroe High, leads the team with 50 catches for 710 yards and eight touchdowns. He has 117 receptions in his career, one shy of tying Jerome Henry for third place in Northridge's all-time list.

Henry manages the vocal group "Adagio" that features Arnold, David Young, Michael White and Howard Henry, a former Matador and Jerome's younger brother.

It was Jerome Henry, Northridge's top receiver last year as a senior, who helped Arnold learn the team's run-and-shoot offense after the former veer quarterback at Monroe High was converted to receiver.

"The best thing for [Arnold] was to have Jerome here to tutor him last year," said Rob Phenicie, Northridge's offensive coordinator and receivers coach. "He has turned into a big-play guy."

Arnold, 6 feet 1 and 185 pounds, is Northridge's deep threat. His longest play went a 59 yards for a touchdown against Southern Utah in October and he has nine receptions of 20 yards or more, including one of 45 yards and one of 44.

He punctuates many of his receptions by diving for the ball, sometimes simply for spice.

Arnold returns kickoffs and has breakaway ability, giving the Matadors instant scoring opportunities and, at the very least, good field position.

In Northridge's 32-28 victory over Portland State last week, Arnold had 122 yards on four returns, a team season best. He has 240 yards in 10 returns and probably would have more, but Phenicie balked at letting Arnold return kickoffs earlier in the season for fear of injury.

"You do end up being a shock absorber [on kickoff returns]," said Jeff Kearin, Northridge's special teams coach. "But I was tired of us being last [in the Big Sky Conference] in kickoff returns. It got to the point that if we were to contend we needed better field position.

"[Arnold] sees the creases and seams really well and he can work the sidelines better than anyone I've ever seen. He has pretty good ability to change direction at full speed."

His football and singing styles, Arnold said, are related. He goes by the stage name "Suave," or smooth, and likes to project a song's message by his mannerisms and even his wardrobe.

"When I perform I go into character," said Arnold, his two earrings sparkling under the lights in a football office at Northridge. "I flip in to that mode."

The group came together about 2 1/2 months ago when Arnold and Howard Henry learned almost by accident that the other could sing. They recruited two others and the quartet is trying to make inroads.

"Everything is happening really fast," Arnold said. "We're in negotiations for a [recording] deal."

Arnold and his two brothers started singing gospel as children, backing their father, Eddie, in churches from Victorville to Riverside to Los Angeles. Aaron's switch to R&B at first didn't sit well with Eddie.

"I'm OK with what he's doing," Eddie said. "I tell him to keep it clean and keep things in perspective and understand what his roots are. . . I want him to set a good example."

Arnold said his father also still wants him to play quarterback but has accepted his move to receiver, which Kearin says some scouts believe might lead to an NFL career, or at least a look.

But Arnold is keeping his ego in check and not thinking that far ahead.

"For my standards, I'd give myself a C+ [this season]," he said. "There's a lot of things I could be doing better. Things like reading routes better, releasing off the ball better just to get open."

Everything needed to put on a better show.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Northridge vs. SW Missouri State

What: Nonconference game

When: Today, 11 a.m.

Where: Springfield, Mo.

Fast fact: First meeting between teams

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