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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Four of a Kind

Quarterbacks Clausen, Cassel, Wasserman, Hance Make for Promising Season

August 25, 1999|ERIC SONDHEIMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A tsunami hitting Zuma Beach wouldn't compare to the unprecedented wave of Valley quarterbacks committing early to major colleges.

In the last six months, four quarterbacks who live within a 10-mile radius will have accepted scholarships before their senior years.

Even more astounding, Matt Cassel of Chatsworth High, Casey Clausen of Alemany, Zac Wasserman of Westlake and Brandon Hance of Taft attended Chaminade Middle School.

Cassel, Clausen and Wasserman were at the Chatsworth campus in 1994. Cassel left the following year, when Hance arrived.

"It's weird," Wasserman said. "When we were in middle school, you would never think of all four of us as major-college recruits and top quarterbacks."

Each went their separate ways for high school, making choices based on where their passing skills could best attract the attention of college coaches.

They achieved exactly what they intended. Cassel has committed to USC, Wasserman to Penn State, Hance to Purdue and Clausen is deciding between Tennessee and Colorado.

Each quarterback will make an appearance on Fox Sports West 2 this fall, with Cassel facing Hance on Nov. 4 at Chatsworth.

Rating one over the other is difficult. Ask four coaches who's the best, and you'll likely get four different responses.

Hance is the quickest, Clausen the most physical, Wasserman the strongest and Cassel the most athletic.

Hance might have the best arm of the group, but he's the smallest, barely 6 feet 1. His performance in the City Championship game last year, when he passed for 288 yards and four touchdowns, reinforced his reputation as a clutch player.

Wasserman, 6-3 and 210 pounds, has the biceps of a linebacker. He's the prototype drop-back passer. Give him a little time, and he'll hit his target.

But force Wasserman to change his routine and the chance for error increases measurably. He has worked hard to learn to improvise and that will be the key to his senior season.

Clausen plays like an immovable object. He looks and acts tough. At 6-4 1/2 and 205 pounds, he can withstand violent hits in the pocket and inflict punishment when he scrambles.

The son of a coach, he possesses football knowledge and instincts that give him an edge.

Adding creativity to his repertoire is his major task for the next level.

Cassel, 6-4 1/2 and 208 pounds, is the great unfinished product. He creates excitement and anticipation with flashes of brilliance.

Cassel's physical skills are unquestioned, but plenty of fine-tuning is needed to fulfill the potential everyone sees.

*

Somewhere, there's a sports god smiling every time Cassel comes near an athletic field.

Whether hugging his coach during a heated moment in practice or singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" while announcing a baseball game, Cassel fits the profile of a teenager engaged in a never-ending pursuit of fun.

He's the Jim Carrey of the high school ranks.

While visiting his doctor for a physical and learning he was still a half-inch short of 6-5, Cassel pleaded for his doctor to tinker with his growth plates.

"Come on, Doc, there's got to be another half inch in there," he says.

In his living room, Cassel tosses a football to his mother, placing his future in her ability to catch.

"OK, Mom, this is for three interceptions my sophomore year at USC," he says. "OK, Mom, this is for no interceptions my senior year at Chatsworth."

If only USC Coach Paul Hackett realizes what he's in for. . . .

Strangers might conclude Cassel is better suited to play kicker than quarterback. But teammates respond to his cool, calm leadership in pressure-filled moments. And he's always capable of a sudden act of courage, hurdling over a defender on the way to the end zone or flinging a pass between two defensive backs.

There's no question about Cassel's intelligence or work ethic, either. He has a 3.8 grade-point average and spent the summer training so intensely, you'd think he was preparing for the Olympics.

On Sundays, he'd wake at 6:30 a.m. and drive to Brentwood to run stairs. Then he'd drive to the beach to run on the sand. During the week, he lifted weights and ran more.

"I'm in better shape than I've been in my life because I've been running so much," he said. "I can run two miles without dying. My stamina is up, my speed is up."

It's the first summer Cassel has focused exclusively on football. Since he was 12 and played in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., baseball was considered his best sport.

But after passing for 2,890 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, Cassel began to make a serious commitment to football, culminating this summer with his decision not to play American Legion baseball.

"I needed this off-season to get better as a quarterback and to get into shape," he said. "I want to be the best. I worked my butt off. I've never done this before in my life.

"It's the first time I buckled down and said, 'I got to do this for myself and my future.' "

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