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Losing No Option for Matadors

Matadors have put it all on the offensive line with two freshmen starting on the right side.

October 04, 1998|ERIC SONDHEIMER

NORTHRIDGE — The challenge came through loud and clear.

"Bring it on, 18-year-old," the Northern Arizona defensive player shouted.

Keith Kincaid, Cal State Northridge's 6-foot-4, 285-pound freshman tackle, seemed more amused than defiant after the verbal taunt.

Kincaid and another freshman starter, 6-foot, 290-pound guard Tim Shoffeitt, aren't intimidated by anything or anybody.

If you want to know why the Matadors have won three consecutive games for the first time since 1990 after overwhelming Southern Utah, 44-17, Saturday, look no further than the improvement in the offensive line.

Northridge Coach Ron Ponciano is either a genius or a masochist for having the audacity to start two freshmen on the right side of the offensive line.

It's not unusual for an 18-year-old freshman to start in NCAA Division I-AA football. But to do it on the offensive line is rare because of the physical and mental demands. And then to have two freshmen blocking side by side. . . .

"It's about as difficult to do as anything in football," Matador line coach Aron Gideon said.

There has been no time for Kincaid or Shoffeitt to panic. They were given a uniform and shoved onto the field, ready or not.

From the opening game against Boise State, when the horrific scene of defensive linemen sacking Marcus Brady five times would have caused most blockers to lose confidence, Kincaid and Shoffeitt have refused to look back.

Everything is about the future, and the future is now.

"It's kind of a joy watching those two guys develop," Gideon said.

Both came to Northridge from successful high school programs.

Kincaid started as a sophomore on a 14-0 team at J.W. North in Riverside that included future USC linebacker Chris Claiborne.

Shoffeitt started for three years on a Yucaipa team that produced a 2,700-yard rusher last season.

"Tim has great leverage," Gideon said. "He's not tall but strong and wide. He has huge, short legs. Football is very important to him. He's a hustler and plays his tail off.

"Keith is very athletic and very physical for a freshman. Over the last week or two, both of these guys have begun to play like sophomores and Keith is almost a junior. They improve every game."

Neither knew a whole lot about Northridge before their arrivals.

"I just knew it because of the [1994 Northridge] earthquake," Shoffeitt said.

Each realized the immediate task at hand.

"You're playing with guys three, four years older than you," Kincaid said. "It's a mind game. You have to watch your back and put somebody down when you can."

Said Shoffeitt: "Here, everybody is good. There's no taking breaks. You have to play your butt off on every down. I do what I have to do. I don't like people who talk and don't perform."

Shoffeitt said he came to Northridge with the hope of making Matador football a visible and successful part of the Valley.

"This community is, 'Who's UCLA or USC playing?' " he said. "This program is going up big time. I think we're going to get everybody's notice when we're Big Sky champs."

Many would say Shoffeitt is dreaming if he thinks the Matadors (3-1, 2-0) are ready to knock off Weber State and Montana this season en route to a Big Sky title.

But, as Kincaid said, "You have to think you can do it or it's not going to happen."

What is certain is Northridge has two freshmen linemen who are going to have fun flattening their share of defenders. It's called a pancake when you put somebody on their behind, and these two teenagers will only become stronger, faster and meaner over the next three years.

"The more we push each other, the better the two-man machine gets on the right side," Kincaid said.


Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422.

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