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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Weiss Finds Right Level to Fulfill His Athletic Dreams

March 19, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

From the time he was old enough to walk, Joel Weiss has played sports.

He was a wide receiver catching passes from quarterback Ryan McCann at Agoura High in 1995.

He was Agoura's shooting guard making three-pointers his senior basketball season in 1996.

UCLA and USC didn't come calling, but Weiss decided that didn't mean his athletic career had to end.

He enrolled at Lehigh, an NCAA Division I-AA football school in Bethlehem, Pa., for two years, then transferred to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps with the crazy idea of playing two sports.

"I just wanted to fill a competitive void missing from basketball," Weiss said. "When you play sports your whole life, as most high school athletes do, and you leave, there's kind of a missing link. I missed basketball so much."

Weiss pulled it off. Last season in football, he caught 29 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. In basketball, he played in all 25 games, making 13 starts at point guard for the Division III Stags.

Weiss is proof that high school athletes don't have to fade away when big-time colleges don't find a spot for them.

There's a vibrant, competitive, fulfilling atmosphere taking place at NCAA Division II and III schools.

"It's been a great experience," Weiss said. "People aren't paying to come see us play, but the passion, love and desire is just as much as any school. Playing in front of your closest buddies, your family and loved ones is an unbelievable experience."

So many successful high school athletes see their sports career end because someone judges them too small or too slow to compete at the next level. But with a little dedication and intelligence, a career can continue, if not flourish.

Crucial to making the jump is facing the truth that physical limitations require giving up the dream of playing Division I athletics.

"It's really a tough call, because no one wants to believe they can't play at the next level," Weiss said. "If you want to play, find out where you're good enough to play at.

"Not everyone is blessed with a 4.3 40-yard time and a 40-inch vertical leap. There's nothing wrong with competing at a lower-division school. It's the same game, except it moves a little slower."

Weiss, 22, will graduate from Claremont McKenna in May with a double major in economics and government. He and some friends are hoping to start an Internet company.

But his real love is basketball and he has no intention of giving up the sport. He has put together his resume and wants to coach.

"I have a lot of stuff I can give back," he said. "I think I have a unique perspective in that I've played two sports. The things that make you successful are very similar--a big belief in team, sacrificing yourself for the team, being disciplined, having an unparalleled work ethic.

"Not everything goes everyone's way all the time. Life is a learning experience. You deal with adversity and it definitely makes you stronger."

What's interesting about Weiss' success is he could have been lost amid the fan hysteria and celebrity atmosphere that revolved around his younger brother, actor Jonathan Taylor Thomas of "Home Improvement" fame.

Because Jonathan was busy acting on Friday nights, he rarely got to see his brother play in high school. But Joel's transfer to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps brought the brothers even closer.

"In college, he was almost at every single football game, every single basketball game," Joel said. "It's been wonderful."

Jonathan is set to graduate from Chaminade High this year before heading off to college.

Of course, if Joel needs a spokesman for his Internet company, guess who might get a call?

"[Jonathan] wouldn't be a bad PR person," he said.

Weiss would trade anything to stay involved in sports. He found a way to keep playing after high school and coaching could be his gateway to sports eternity.

*

Dustin Villepigue, Simi Valley's 6-foot-9 junior center, is taking a break from basketball by playing for the Pioneers' tennis team. Imagine what it must be like trying to lob over Villepigue.

"Everyone laughs when they try," he said. . . .

It has been nearly three months since Simi Valley fired football coach Ron Veres. The school still hasn't hired a successor. If there are any good players left, no one would blame them if they transfer to rival Royal or another school under open enrollment considering the inexcusable delay in finding a new coach. . . .

College coaches in need of pitching should take a look at right-hander Jason Hirsh of St. Francis. He's 6-8, 260 pounds, throws hard and has a grade-point average close to 4.0.

"I would recruit him," Coach Scott Muckey of Crespi said. "I think he's got good potential."

Hirsh struck out eight Crespi batters in 3 2/3 innings Tuesday night. . . .

Thousand Oaks versus Westlake for Marmonte League baseball supremacy. It's all set for Wednesday at Thousand Oaks. What a game it should be, matching UCLA-bound pitcher Chris Cordeiro of Thousand Oaks against pitcher Jesse Kozlowski of Westlake. These teams don't like each other, but hopefully they'll show class and respect and make everyone proud. . . .

Oaks Christian is close to hiring a girls' basketball coach. Chuck Brown, former Thousand Oaks coach, is a top candidate.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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