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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

Westlake Will Have Dog Days

November 26, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Freshman pitcher Justin Henry of Westlake High is going to be the most popular baseball player on campus. Even opponents will want to shake his hand.

The reason: His wonder dog, Zuma, fetches foul balls like a hunting dog retrieving ducks.

Zuma, a seven-year-old golden retriever, sits behind home plate waiting for the opportunity to go into action. If it's a foul ball, Zuma takes off, out-hustling even little kids for the ball.

"That dog is incredible," Coach Jim Ozella of Hart said after watching Zuma outrun the younger brother of Hart outfielder Bill Susdorf for foul balls during a winter game last weekend at College of the Canyons.

Players sitting in the dugout were mesmerized by Zuma's efficiency.

"Everyone was laughing and saying it was the coolest dog they've ever seen," Henry said.

Players from both teams were thrilled, because didn't have to leave the dugout to find foul balls with Zuma on the job.

"He watches the pitches as they throw it to the plate, tracks it, then follows," Henry said. "Ever since he was born, he can get any ball he sees. If something is moving high speed, he wants to know what it is and goes for it. Every ball he sees, he wants to get."

There isn't a baseball coach in America who wouldn't want Zuma on the bench.

Coach Chuck Berrington of Westlake has one problem with Zuma working Westlake home games.

"We have to teach the dog to cross Thousand Oaks Boulevard," he said.

Zuma is good for pitchers who like to throw spit balls, since the balls come back full of slobber.

That's about the only drawback to Zuma, who works for free but doesn't mind an occasional dog biscuit.

Zuma is named after Zuma Beach. Henry takes Zuma there frequently, throwing a ball into the ocean for Zuma to retrieve.

"He learned it all his life," Henry said. "It was instinct."

Henry just hopes during his pitching career at Westlake, Zuma doesn't have to chase too many balls hit over the fence for home runs.

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How much do football fans of Tennessee appreciate Casey Clausen, former Alemany quarterback?

Hancel Woods of Kingsport, Tenn., writes, "He and Peyton Manning have been talking on the phone on a regular basis and I see no reason that he can't accomplish everything here that Peyton did, plus two things Peyton didn't--win a national championship and the Heisman. You can rest assured that we will take very good care of him." . . .

Coach Jim Bonds of St. Francis likes to tease former coach Bill Redell for running the fumblerooski so often. But Bonds ran the fumblerooski against Antelope Valley on Friday night and it worked for a 66-yard touchdown run by 310-pound offensive guard Bobby Garafolo. Doesn't Bonds owe Redell an apology?

"I don't rip him for running it," Bonds said. "I rip him because his whole offense was based around it. The referee said it was the best he's ever seen the fumblerooski executed, and he's seen Redell do it."

St. Francis will play Hart on Friday night at College of the Canyons in a Division III semifinal game. Bonds is a former Hart quarterback and best friends and golfing partners with Hart's Herrington brothers. Bonds' wife, Tricia, graduated from Hart in 1988.

It's going to be a civil war.

"I love it," Tricia said.

Bonds has muzzled his wife this week to make sure she doesn't say any bulletin board material. Bonds is doing well by himself, taking a shot at quarterback coach Dean Herrington of Hart over whose ex-quarterbacks are performing better in college.

"Look at the quarterback ratings in the NCAA," Bonds said. "Mine are doing better than his."

Of course, Bonds has only one--Clausen. . . .

Brandon Hance, former Taft quarterback who is a freshman at Rose Bowl-bound Purdue, was in town for Thanksgiving.

Hance will be Purdue's unofficial tour guide when the team arrives for a 10-day stay in the Southland. Don't expect Hance to spend much time in his old bedroom. The team will be staying at the $350 a night Beverly Hilton.

"I told my mom and she didn't believe me, 'Yeah, right,' " Hance said. "She said, 'You don't have to come home that much.' "

Hance is the No. 2 quarterback behind Drew Brees but wound up redshirting because he never got in a game.

"The plan was for me not to redshirt, but it worked out we were in so many close games I wasn't going to play," he said.

As for introducing teammates to Southern California, Hance said, "Everyone has this idea in their head what California is about. Some of them have a little too high expectations."

Purdue's probable New Year's Day opponent, Washington, has another former local quarterback as its backup, J.K. Scott from Burroughs. . . .

There were so many former Hart players and coaches attending Friday night's Hart-Crescenta Valley playoff game that they could have had a Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Among the attendees were Kyle Boller, Steve McKeon and Jerry Owens, along with former coach Carl Sweet. . . .

Receiver Jason Burkhart of Crescenta Valley gets my vote for most underrated player in the region based on his performance against Hart. He caught 11 passes for 150 yards and completed a 36-yard pass. He fought for every ball and hustled for every yard. He epitomizes the universal hope of coaches that their players will "leave everything on the field."

*

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

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