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Fast Times at Taft for Clements

He gets a prom date with a cheerleader and is a threat in City cross-country championships.

November 08, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Daniel Clements of Taft High loves to talk about girls. It ranks right up there with running as his favorite pastime.

"Between girls and running, it's a tie," he said.

But he's so shy it required more courage than running a grueling three-mile race to finally ask a sophomore cheerleader to the fall formal.

"I knew I was going to ask somebody, but I asked somebody I didn't think I would ask in my life," he said. "I was fearful."

She said yes, so maybe that explains the extra bounce in his stride the last three weeks, when he has run his fastest times.

There was his t15:43 in a West Valley League cross-country meet against Birmingham. There was his career-best 15:28 in the West Valley finals last week.

The way his times keep dropping, it won't be long before he shatters the Taft record of 15:15 established by Brian Godsey in 1990.

The next 11 days will be exciting for Clements. Today he competes in the City preliminaries at Pierce College. On Saturday, he'll dance the night away at the Universal Sheraton Hotel. Then comes the City championships on Nov. 18.

Don't worry about him getting tired.

"I'll take a nap, regenerate, drink those energy drinks," he said.

There should be many memorable days ahead for Clements, who's on the verge of becoming an elite athlete.

He was runner-up in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters last season in the City track championships. In cross-country, he won the West Valley League individual championship last week.

Come spring, Clements could earn a place among the top distance runners in the state.

It's all about improvement.

Last cross-country season, he was a tall, slender junior with little running experience.

He has grown to 6 feet 2 1/2 inches, weighs 140 pounds and is coming off a summer in which he ran 40 to 50 miles a week for the first time.

He would leave his Woodland Hills home in the morning and run down Burbank Boulevard to El Camino Real High, head down Platt Street into West Hills.

He'd wear headphones and listen to music.

"I imagined people cheering and I'd get a chill," he said. "It keeps me going and going."

An appreciation for running has finally taken hold.

His father was an outstanding half-miler at Taft in the 1970s. Daniel didn't seem impressed and running was not a priority.

"At first, I didn't see the point of it," he said. "I didn't have a passion for it. Now it's my life. When I ran in ninth and 10th grade, it was bland. I didn't get that racing attitude. I thought, 'OK, I'll follow some guy and finish at the end.'

"As I got older, I realized racing is great. I could follow somebody and beat them at the end."

Clements has the ideal size and stride for a miler.

"He's got a beautiful stride and runs like an antelope," Taft Coach Mel Hein said.

Said Clements: "I feel like my body is on a stick and my legs are going and going, striding along."

Clements has perfected a routine that helps him prepare for races. The night before, he goes to a Mexican restaurant with his grandfather and father and eats a burrito filled with beans, rice, chicken and all the carbohydrates he can order.

"Seriously, it works," he said.

Then comes the mental preparation.

"Before races, I do very little talking," he said. "I try to get into a stage where it's a pure adrenaline rush. I pump myself up and right when the gun goes off, everything spills out and it's a dogfight."

There are many goals ahead for Clements.

Next spring, he will go after his father's 800 time of 1:53.

"I want to crush his time," Daniel said. "He's still teasing me. I'm going to tell him what I told him my ninth-grade year, 'You shouldn't have let me join track.' "

First, though, he must make it through the City preliminaries, the fall formal and the City final.

For someone who has a 3.5 grade-point average and talks constantly to his teammates about girls, Clements could use a lesson in pickup lines.

The first time he spoke to his date was in algebra class. And what was his introduction line?

"I asked her if we have any homework," he said.

Whatever impression he made, it worked.

Call him Casanova Clements.


Mike Seidman, former Westlake High tight end, was so excited after scoring his first college touchdown for UCLA on Saturday against Stanford that he ran through the end zone to give high-fives to fans in the stands.

"I was going to milk that touchdown for everything," he said. "It felt unbelievable."

Former Chaminade safety Jason Zdenek was equally pumped after returning an interception 56 yards for a touchdown against the Cardinal.

"Did you see those turbos?" Zdenek said.

Brother Eric, a freshman defensive back for the Bruins who greeted Jason on the sideline, said, "I know my mom was crying and my dad was on cloud nine." . . .

Westlake doesn't only have good football players--they have some future Microsoft executives. When Coach Jim Benkert's home computer broke down, he brought it to school and asked sophomore defensive lineman Wesley Minear to fix it. No problem.

"It was the motherboard," Minear said.

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