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Keys to the Game

De La Salle Running Back Callen Plans to Keep Mater Dei Busy

September 22, 1998|MIKE TERRY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Atari Callen would like to clear up some misconceptions about the Concord De La Salle football team.

He and his teammates do not have superhuman powers, nor were they pieced together by a mad scientist.

Oh, and they don't recruit players.

Still, there must be some fantastic secret behind De La Salle's national-record 78-game winning streak.

"Well," Callen said. "We do play hard."

None harder than Callen, a 5-foot-9 1/2, 190-pound running back who is one of the best players for the Spartans, who come into Saturday's showdown against Mater Dei as USA Today's top-ranked team.

In addition to defensive linemen, colleges are also in hot pursuit of Callen. Among them are UCLA, Ohio State, Washington, Oregon and Arizona, where his brother, Leon, is a running back.

But Callen said he is thinking ahead only one week at a time. Saturday's game against Mater Dei is one he has been waiting two years for.

"When I first heard this year's schedule, that we were finally going to play them, I was both excited and nervous," Callen said. "Now, I'm just excited. We all are. We want to test our skills against the best. Since the season started there has been a real excitement about this game. And now it's here."

Callen made his presence felt quickly this season.

In De La Salle's 48-13 season-opening victory over Grass Valley Nevada Union, he returned the opening kickoff 82 yards for a touchdown and added a 25-yard reception for a score.

On Friday, he blistered visiting Bakersfield for 200 yards and four touchdowns, including a 47-yarder, in 14 carries.

His numbers might be more impressive, but because the Spartans often have big leads by halftime, Callen and his fellow starters spend much of the second half on the bench.

The Spartans are playing their most ambitious schedule since their winning streak began in 1992.

"This year we will play every good team from every good section of the state," Callen said. "And this game feels like a state playoff. Whatever happens, the memory will last me a lifetime."

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