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Amazing Pace

Orange Lutheran's Meza Averaging 11.9 Yards Per Carry

October 22, 1998|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dee Meza will quietly concede, if prodded, that he may be a good running back.

He really prefers to brag about Orange Lutheran's offensive line, the teammates who have opened gaping holes that have enabled him to run wild.

But once past the line of scrimmage, Meza is one of the county's best open-field runners with an innate ability to cut back against the flow of defenders.

He will lead Orange Lutheran (5-1, 2-0) against Whittier Christian (5-1, 1-0) in an Olympic League showdown at 7 p.m. Saturday at Whittier College.

Meza has scored 14 touchdowns and has gained 891 yards in only 75 carries (11.9 average). In last week's 33-13 victory over Cerritos Valley Christian, the 5-foot-9 senior tailback set a school record by rushing for 318 yards.

"I think the most telling stat about Dee is his yards per carry," Orange Lutheran Coach Jim Kunau said. "Most of those carries came against quality competition. If I turned him loose like other running backs, gave him the ball all the time regardless of the game situation, his yardage would be a lot higher."

Meza has his share of supporters among opposing coaches too.

"He's for real," said Mike Wunderley, veteran Valley Christian coach. "He's a tough kid to bring down."

Troy Coach John Turek watched Meza score twice and rush for 192 yards in 16 carries during the Lancers' 28-19 victory over his Warriors. "What makes him so difficult to stop," Turek said, "is that he cuts back so well."

Meza's running is just part of Orange Lutheran's wide-open offensive scheme.

"Having a running back that can cut back and get through so many holes allows us to do so much more," senior tackle Joe VanDalsem said. "We can concentrate on controlling the line of scrimmage. We've learned that all we have to do is get in front of our guy and take him to one side and Dee will pick his way through."

But Meza, in turn, cuts back and credits others.

"Our offense is very balanced," he said. "My success has been a combination of getting good holes and having good off-season weight training, better than my junior year. I'm a lot stronger than I was a year ago. I just run and look for daylight, and a lot of teams over-pursue me."

Former Whittier Christian and Heritage Christian Coach Tom Caffrey, a veteran of small-school football, is now a scout for Whittier Christian. He watched Meza's performance against Valley Christian.

"He's outstanding," Caffrey said. "I like his ability to hit the hole quickly, stop on a dime and go the other way. He can change direction so quickly. He poses huge problems. He's the kind of back you want to tackle behind the line or you are in trouble."

VanDalsem said most teams fall into a trap when trying to tackle Meza.

"He's so fast that they think they need to take a huge angle on him, and then they go too far," he said. "When he cuts back he goes by them and then they're suddenly out of the loop."

Three years ago, Meza transferred to Orange Lutheran from Tustin High. As a sophomore, he played defensive back for the Lancer varsity.

"My parents thought it would be a better environment for me here," Meza said of the move. "I have no regrets at all about leaving Tustin. It's a great program. But it's a great program with great people over here. Everyone is like family."

Last season, Meza gained 502 yards and averaged 7.8 yards per carry in his first five games. However, after breaking his hand, he was left standing on the sideline during league play.

He opened this season with an 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but then he carried only seven times for 25 yards during the Lancers' 42-16 loss at Tallahassee North Florida Christian.

A week later, Meza carried 12 times for 194 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-20 victory over Los Amigos. He had a 59-yard touchdown run called back because of a penalty. In that game, another of the county's top backs, Andrew Niumata, ran for 177 yards and three scores.

Kunau believes Meza and Niumata are the cream of the county's crop of running backs this season.

"Both are great backs, two of the better in the county," he said. "I'm biased, of course. I think Dee Meza is tremendous. He's a nice kid too. He's very unselfish."

Meza said it would be difficult to compare his game to Niumata's. Last week, the Los Amigos senior rushed for 416 yards, third on the county's all-time list, and a county-record eight touchdowns in a 71-46 victory over Bolsa Grande.

"He's a power back," Meza said of Niumata. "Their offense is different than ours. Their offense is designed around the run. Our offense is designed around the pass, and that opens up the run."

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