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Valley / Ventura County Sports

Driving Force

Altman Commutes From Thousand Oaks, Makes an Impact at Linebacker for Loyola

October 09, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — Good thing Andrew Altman doesn't drive the way he plays football.

He would burn rubber leaving the driveway of his Thousand Oaks home, reach full speed by the mailbox and wouldn't slow until he reached Loyola High in Los Angeles.

Along the way, he would yell at other drivers who weren't paying attention. He'd exhort everyone to go as fast as him. And, inevitably, there would be a spectacular collision.

Thankfully, Altman, a senior regarded as one of the Southern Section's best linebackers, obeys traffic laws as he chauffeurs his younger brother and another Loyola student on a 100-mile round-trip commute to school each day.

Pent-up road rage is saved for the field, where his tackles will never be mistaken for fender benders.

The hit he laid on running back Herman Ho-Ching of Long Beach Poly in a Division I semifinal last season continues to reverberate around Loyola.

Oregon, where Ho-Ching now plays, is recruiting Altman primarily because of that tackle, Loyola Coach Steve Grady believes.

Ho-Ching tried to block a blitzing Altman and was blasted into unconsciousness.

"It was like head-butting a wall," Altman said. "It was helmet to helmet, full body to full body. Their trainer came out with smelling salts for him. When I came to school on Monday, everyone talked about it. It's my claim to fame."

The play is all he cares to recall about the game, which Loyola lost, 24-17, spoiling an unbeaten season.

Altman was among three junior starters for Loyola last season and the only one to earn all-league honors.

A year later, he is Loyola's senior leader, a captain who plays fullback and inside linebacker.

The Cubs (4-0) again are rolling entering a nonleague game Saturday night at 7:30 against Hart (4-0) at Glendale High.

"Andrew is very vocal," said Lalo Diaz, a Loyola receiver and defensive back. "Without a doubt, he takes the leadership role.

"He shows a lot of emotion and pride. If someone messes around, he gets on them right away. He knows what it takes to win."

Altman's intensity was evident early on to George Paton, his junior varsity coach in 1996 who is assistant player personnel director for the Chicago Bears.

"We were leaving the locker room to play Bishop Amat and I heard a crash," Paton said. "Andrew had put his head through a window. He had cuts all over his head and hand.

"In practice, I had to tone him back because he went so hard. He wanted to kill a guy on every play. He has the same mental makeup guys [in the NFL] do."

Such drive motivates The Drive--Altman's daily commute. During the season, Altman is out the door at 6 a.m. and doesn't get home until 7:30 p.m.

The off-season is more demanding because of a weight-training program three days a week that begins at 6 a.m. Altman is up at 4:30 on those days.

Wouldn't it have been a lot easier to attend Thousand Oaks High like his best friend from youth football, Joey Casillas, an All-Marmonte League defensive back?

"I went to Loyola High games since I was a little kid and it was always a dream to go there," Altman said. "The decision was big. I knew it would be tough. But my parents knew the curriculum would get me ready for college and there was the rich football tradition."

Altman has a 3.5 grade-point average, scored 1,180 on the SAT and is being recruited by Princeton and Columbia of the Ivy League in addition to several Pacific 10 Conference schools.

Had he already filled out his 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame, he might be attracting even more recruiting attention.

"I know he can play at the next level, he just needs more size," Grady said. "He's quick enough to cover sideline to sideline and he has only one speed, 100%. He is a tremendously intense individual. He'll go through a wall."

All the talk of Altman's wild-eyed ferocity doesn't fit with the guy Stacey Phillips has called her boyfriend the last two years.

Phillips, a senior at Flintridge Sacred Heart, met Altman at a UCLA-USC football game and was touched by his sensitivity.

She carries tissues in her purse for him when they go to a movie.

"He wouldn't hurt a fly," Phillips said.

Of course, she'd have a hard time convincing Ho-Ching of that.

"Off the field, I'm Andrew, and on the field, I'm Altman," he said. "They are two different personas. Off the field, I'm understanding, lovable, I care. On the field, that doesn't exist. It's like I push a button and change."

Altman started attending Loyola games when he was 3 because of his father's friendship with Loyola alumnus Pat Jacobs.

Gerald Altman was taken by the discipline of Grady's program, and over time came to appreciate that many Loyola graduates become successful adults.

"I was very impressed by the alumni and their commitment to coming back and serving the school," said Gerald Altman, a Vietnam War veteran who played running back at Burbank High, Glendale College and Long Beach State. "It had to be something Andrew wanted to do. But from the time he was 7 years old, he said he wanted to be a Cub."

Easier said than done.

Only 300 of approximately 800 freshman applicants are accepted each year, and Altman initially was turned down. A handful of spots opened up weeks before the fall semester began and he squeezed in.

On Saturday, Altman will be forcing his way into the Hart backfield. Because of the Indians' exceptional passing game, instead of playing linebacker he will be in a three-point stance with a single aim--sack Kyle Boller.

"Andrew does put on a good rush," Grady said.

Win or lose, Monday brings rush-hour traffic. Altman will be in the thick of it as usual.

"The drive is a killer," he said. "I get home and barely have time to shower and do homework. But being part of Loyola is what I value more than anything. It's all worth it."

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