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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Better Than Par

Sonkur Gave Up Golf to Become Elite Running Back for Montclair Prep

November 28, 2000|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Before he perfected the cut-back on a pitch or the quick burst up the middle, Gary Sonkur was easier to catch on the back nine than on the football field.

He was as talented with a golf club as he was with a bevy of blockers in front of him, almost preferring the tranquility of the driving range to the frenetic pace of football.

Sonkur, a senior running back at Montclair Prep High, might be chasing school records on a different field of green if not for a chat with his mother, Glenda Dukes-Sonkur, during his sophomore season.

At the time, Sonkur played both sports with equal aplomb, but almost chose golf. Then came The Talk.

"She said I had an athletic talent and she told me not to put all my eggs in one basket," said Sonkur, who was a 10-handicap in golf. "She said I would have regretted it if I did."

It's safe to say he has no regrets.

Sonkur is the latest in an ever-growing list of talented football players at Montclair Prep, which plays Bosco Tech in a Southern Section Division XII semifinal Saturday night at Valley College.

Twenty-nine former Mounties have played at Division I colleges, including Wilbert Smith (Illinois), Kevin Bentley (Northwestern), Chidi Daniels (Arizona), Carlease Clark (Wisconsin), Anwawn Jones (Northwestern and Colorado) and Eliel Swinton (Stanford).

A three-year starter, Sonkur has already secured his place in Montclair Prep history by rushing for 4,859 yards and 71 touchdowns in his career.

"We've had some pretty good kids coming through here," Montclair Prep Coach George Giannini said. "He's one of the best running backs we've had."

However, college coaches aren't beating down the door to recruit a 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back, a situation that doesn't make sense to Giannini.

"People said he's a little short, but then I turned on the TV and saw a guy his size [Texas Christian's LaDainian Tomlinson] leading the nation in rushing," Giannini said.

Said Sonkur, with a shrug: "I use my size to my advantage. Lower center of gravity."

Sonkur's stats are almost as eye-popping as those of Tomlinson, a Heisman Trophy contender.

Sonkur has rushed for 2,506 yards, six short of the school season record set by Smith in 1993. After gaining 93 yards in a season opener against Clovis East, Sonkur rushed for more than 200 yards in five consecutive games.

He isn't just an impact player at running back. He has seven interceptions as a strong-side cornerback. Against Chowchilla, he scored on a 47-yard interception return and a 45-yard punt return.

Sonkur would trade all his individual numbers for a Southern Section championship, particularly if it comes against Paraclete.

Top-seeded Montclair Prep (12-0) appears to be on a championship-game collision course with the No. 2-seeded Spirits (11-1).

As a sophomore, Sonkur lost three fumbles against Paraclete, two leading to Spirit touchdowns. Sonkur finished with 24 yards in nine carries and Paraclete won, 19-6.

"I let my team down that game . . . we were on our way to being undefeated," he said. "I still use that as motivation."

If further motivation is needed, Paraclete eliminated Montclair Prep last season, 35-34, in the quarterfinals.

In the meantime, Sonkur is thinking about the Mounties' semifinal Saturday. The football semifinal.

It's the golf world's loss.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Rolling Along

Gary Sonkur is six yards shy of the season rushing record at Montclair Prep. A look at Sonkur's season:

*--*

Opponent Att. Yds. Avg. TD Clovis East 10 93 9.3 2 Santa Clara 8 270 33.8 5 Beaumont 15 208 13.7 2 S.D. Santa Fe 31 297 9.6 3 St. Anthony 18 228 12.7 2 Kilpatrick 18 215 11.9 3 Vasquez 7 161 23.0 3 Aquinas 24 105 4.4 0 Chowchilla 11 89 8.1 2 Malibu 20 403 20.2 6 Bell-Jeff 7 224 32.0 3 Banning 20 213 10.7 5 Totals 189 2,506 13.3 36

*--*

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