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Diane Pucin

This Civil War Has a Tinge of Orange

November 18, 2000|DIANE PUCIN

Garrett Sabol has attended USC-UCLA football games. Then Sabol went off to play football at the University of Oregon and experienced the "Civil War." That's the game between Oregon and Oregon State.

So Sabol has seen rivalries. And USC-UCLA is no rivalry. Not if you listen to Sabol.

"This is at such another level," Sabol said. "I can't even describe how much of a different level this is up here. This is the biggest thing that happens in our state every year. Sometimes USC-UCLA isn't the biggest thing that happens in Los Angeles."

Sabol was speaking from the Oregon campus. Sabol, from Buena Park and Kennedy High, is a starting outside linebacker for the Ducks, who will be playing at Oregon State today hoping to win a trip to the Rose Bowl.

And Orange County can take great credit for the success of the Ducks this season.

Keenan Howry, a sophomore wide receiver from Los Alamitos High, is the second-leading receiver; Rasuli Webster, a sophomore free safety from Brea Olinda High, is fourth on the team in tackles (Sabol is third); Kevin Mitchell, from Orange and Mater Dei, is a redshirt freshman inside linebacker who is eighth on the team in tackles; Jim Adams, a junior from Lake Forest and El Toro High, is a starting offensive lineman, and Duck reserves include A.K. Keyes, a redshirt freshman cornerback from Los Alamitos; freshman tailback Kenny Washington of Brea Olinda, and offensive lineman Corey Chambers, a sophomore from Tustin High.

Oregon State is not without its Orange County contributors. Aaron Hill, a redshirt freshman wide receiver from Yorba Linda and Esperanza High; Nick Stremick, a quarterback from Villa Park and Mater Dei, and freshman Doug Nienhuis of Irvine and Woodbridge High will be on the sideline--if not in the game--for the Beavers.

Most of these kids weren't recruited heavily by USC or UCLA.

So, yes, says Sabol, there is a huge amount of pride that this game in Corvallis will go a long way toward deciding the Pac-10 Rose Bowl representative. That game in the Rose Bowl today will go a long way toward deciding nothing.

"You can't help but notice the irony a little bit," Sabol says. "There's a lot of us up here who know all about USC-UCLA. It's all I heard about growing up. I went to some of the games. You sort of expect USC-UCLA to have an impact on the Rose Bowl. Nobody ever expects our game to have an impact on the Rose Bowl.

"And to be honest," Sabol continues, "I think this also says a lot about football in Orange County. We produce a lot of good athletes. I give a lot of credit to our Southern California recruiting coordinator. His name is Tom Osborne and he's the reason a lot of us are here."

Sabol says he was not insulted that USC and UCLA showed limited interest in him. "I really wanted to go out of state to school," Sabol says. "I really did. Still, when I came up here I didn't know much about Oregon football. Or Oregon the place. I just knew it rained a lot. Some of us go away and we aren't heard from because of the attention USC and UCLA get, but coaches in the Pac-10 know. That's why they come down and recruit us."

Webster says he also wasn't fawned over by the big local colleges. If he occasionally is homesick and sometimes misses the sun, Webster says he sits back and thinks about how good things are in Eugene.

"I'm lucky to be up here," says Webster, who marked his spring football debut at Oregon last April by leading all defenders with 11 tackles. "I don't think any of us are bitter or anything because we weren't wanted as much at USC or UCLA. We're playing Pac-10 football and we're playing for the Rose Bowl. There's only three teams that can say that. Us, Oregon State and Washington. So I'd rather be playing in the game that matters this week than playing in the Rose Bowl this weekend."

If Oregon beats Oregon State, Oregon goes to the Rose Bowl. If Oregon State beats Oregon and Washington loses to Washington State, Oregon State goes to the Rose Bowl. If Oregon State and Washington both win, Washington goes to the Rose Bowl.

Recruiting is never a sure thing. Could most of these guys play at USC or UCLA? It's easy to say yes now. Sabol's point is that he and so many of his teammates have come north and proved high school football in Orange County is something to be proud of.

"Everybody knows Orange County has lots of great soccer players, baseball players, softball players, stuff like that," Sabol says. "But we have some great high school football and it's kind of fun that so many of us are up here now and good things are happening."

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Diane Pucin can be reached at her e-mail address: diane.pucin@latimes.com

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