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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Northridge Heavies Keep It Light

Big Sky: With title on the line today, San Vicente and friends will try to make sure the Matadors stay loose.

November 21, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — As the sagacious veteran of Cal State Northridge's offensive line, David San Vicente always knows what to say at crunch time.

"I'll point to one [defensive lineman] saying, 'Cheeseburger, cheeseburger,' so they all shift in that direction," San Vicente said, laughing. "We'll just call things from a menu to mess up the defense.

"The best is to see the faces they make, all serious."

San Vicente, a four-year starter at Northridge, is having a good time for a good reason. The Matadors are on the verge of claiming a Big Sky Conference championship in his senior season and he's milking it for every zany moment.

For the first time in the school's 37-year football history, Northridge (7-3, 5-2 in conference play) can finish first in a legitimate conference by beating Idaho State (2-8, 1-6) tonight in Pocatello, Idaho.

It actually would be a co-championship with Montana or Montana State, who play today in Missoula, but no need for technicalities. From his three-point stand at left guard, it all looks mighty fine to San Vicente.

As his career at Northridge winds down, San Vicente wants to go out with a bang, one much different than the thunder made by the roof falling down in his first year with the Matadors.

That was in 1995, when Northridge finished 2-8, the team's worst record in 20 years. San Vicente, 6 feet 3 and 300 pounds, and kicker Manny Marquez are the only Matadors remaining from that team.

"A lot of those [players] didn't care about the team," San Vicente said. "We didn't have the kind of players we have now. The coaches have done a great job building the program."

This season, the building process has focused considerably on the infrastructure, particularly an offensive line hobbled by injuries and a key academic casualty.

San Vicente, an All-City tackle at Birmingham High and a two-time Big Sky honorable mention selection at the position, was set to start on the left side next to Taffe Aina. Until Aina turned up ineligible.

So there they were, two days before the season opener at Boise State on Sept. 5, and coaches were asking San Vicente to move in a patchwork plan. Nothing major, just one voluminous body width down the line.

San Vicente could have balked, made excuses, claim imminent doom--if not for him, for Marcus Brady, the Matadors' redshirt freshman quarterback. The blocking techniques were different for a guard than a tackle, the elbow room much tighter.

But San Vicente accepted the move and, after a brief return to tackle, has been playing left guard the last five games. And playing it well. He's first or second every week on the team's grading chart for linemen.

"He switched without a word of complaint," said Aron Gideon, Northridge's lines coach. "There isn't a player I've coached that hasn't needed to be pushed and I've never had any problems with David.

"He has been our best lineman this year."

The transition to guard was tenuous. Brady was sacked five times in Northridge's 26-13 nonconference loss at Boise State and San Vicente felt partly responsible.

"I had a pretty bad game [at Boise State] because I didn't know what I was doing," San Vicente said. "But the team needed me at guard and I dedicated myself to make it work."

Now, San Vicente lines up next to center Julio Alcala, his partner in levity. The two call themselves the LWO, or Latino World Order, and run a kangaroo court where they place other linemen on probation for telling bad jokes.

"We just like to keep everything fun," Alcala said. "Football can be too serious sometimes. . . . Nobody takes [the probation] personal."

The culprits, San Vicente said, receive fair warning.

"They get three strikes before they go on probation," San Vicente said. "Then they can't tell a joke for a while.

"Basically, we want to do our jobs best we can and have fun while we are doing it."

It's all part of the menu.

Northridge vs. Idaho State

What: Big Sky Conference finale

When: Today, 5:35 p.m.

Where: Holt Arena, Pocatello, Idaho

Fast fact: Matadors can clinch a share of Big Sky title

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