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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Marquez Stands Tall For Matadors

September 19, 1998|FERNANDO DOMINGUEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NORTHRIDGE — When you're Manny Marquez's size, people aim for you.

Marquez, Cal State Northridge's 5-foot-3 senior kicker, remembers one blow he absorbed in his early days with the Matadors.

"A guy came after me [after a kick] because I nailed him on a kickoff [earlier]," Marquez said. "It was a clean hit, but it was the hardest I've been hit, ever. By anything.

"I had a headache for about a week."

When you're Manny Marquez's size, people see a pushover.

"He's one of the strongest guys on the team, pound for pound," said assistant Jeff Kearin, who handles the special teams. "He worked out so hard [in the off-season], he tore up his pecs."

Said Marquez, who weighs 148 pounds and can bench press 310: "I was warming up, doing 285, and the left [pectoral] went. I was going to do 315."

When you're Manny Marquez's size, parents worry.

"Every time I see him get hit, I think they've killed him," said Consuelo, his mother.

Marquez not only has survived, he's likely to leave Northridge with a few school kicking records. He has 22 career field goals and 86 extra points, trailing school leader Abo Velasco by 12 in each category.

Not bad for someone who last season was the shortest player in Division I, and among the most effective kickers.

Marquez converted 42 of 43 extra points and 12 of 17 field-goal attempts in 1997, including all five inside the 30-yard line. He has made 22 consecutive extra points and seven field goals in a row, dating to last year.

The streaks will be tested when the Matadors (0-1) meet Northern Arizona (2-0) in a Big Sky Conference opener tonight on the artificial turf at Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Marquez made two field goals and an extra point in Northridge's 26-13 loss at Boise State two weeks ago while nursing a tender right quadriceps.

"He's such a little warrior," Kearin said.

Marquez doesn't back down on the field. He occasionally tests Kearin's nerves by charging downfield on kick returns, leaving the last line of defense unattended. But Kearin recalls only one returner getting past Marquez.

It's probably because Marquez played defensive back at Bishop Diego High in Santa Barbara, where he was an All-Southern Section pick in soccer his senior season in 1994. Until high school, Marquez was not allowed to play football.

"He'd get home after [football] practice and I'd ask him, 'Is it time to quit yet?' " said Manuel, his father. "He'd say 'No.' I'd say, 'OK, then.' "

Marquez's longest field goal with the Matadors was 49 yards at New Mexico State in 1996 and he connected from 44 yards twice last year, at Montana State and against Cal State Sacramento.

But Marquez, who has made 60-yard field goals in practice with a tail wind, worries more about consistency than distance.

"I figure if I'm consistent from 40 [yards] in, it's better because teams rarely go for 50-yarders," Marquez said. "I'm pretty confident going out on the field. I pretty much expect to make every kick."

He also expects more respect from All-Big Sky voters, who last season failed to recognize him even with an honorable mention.

"I think I got [cheated]," Marquez said. "I want to get noticed by the conference."

Most people in the Big Sky already have, but because of his height rather than his skill. It is, Marquez said, the same old story.

"I'm used to it," he said. "It's not like I turned short yesterday."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Cal State Northridge vs. Northern Arizona

What: Big Sky Conference opener

When: Tonight, 6:05 p.m.

Where: Walkup Skydome

Fast fact: Northridge is 0-2 in Big sky openers, both on the road

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