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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

Mind Games

Running back Altman gives Agoura High brain power and leg power.

November 30, 2000|JOHN KLIMA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

AGOURA HILLS — Quarterback Chris Denove of Agoura High considered the problem. He has a 3.8 grade-point average, but he shook his head in frustration.

Coach Charlie Wegher took a look, only to beg off. "I'm an English teacher," he said.

They weren't confounded by a riddle of numbers on a blackboard. It was a matter of nuts and bolts.

On a football tackling sled, that is.

Running back Brad Altman mulled over how to assemble the device, which required six tackling posts to be spaced at precise measurements across the sled.

One problem: there was no assembly manual. That didn't stop Altman.

"He started doing all the math in his head," Wegher said. "He was dividing up the parts, the lengths and the distributions. I was amazed."

Said Denove: "It was the Altman project. He figured out the whole problem right there."

Altman, a senior running back, has been the answer in Agoura's equation. He'll lead the surprising Chargers (8-4) into a Southern Section Division IV semifinal Friday night against Arroyo Grande at Agoura.

"You had to figure out exactly where each part needed to be," Altman said.

When Altman fit in place in the backfield, Agoura found the missing piece to the puzzle. His addition completed Agoura's most balanced offense in recent years.

In Altman, they have a studious player whose athletic ability matches his intellect.

Altman, 17, had been a wide receiver throughout high school, but depth at that position gave him a chance to become a running back this season.

"He's been outstanding," Wegher said. "We knew he would be good, but this was way beyond our expectations."

Altman has rushed for 1,467 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has provided a complement to Denove, who has passed for 2,528 yards and 25 touchdowns.

Like Agoura, the fourth-place Marmonte League team, Altman has been a surprise.

"I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I'm glad that I'm a running back this year because we've got good receivers and a good quarterback."

Altman is the thinking man's running back.

"He's a constant thinker," Denove said. "When we [watch] films, he's really good at breaking down precise things. He always questions the game plan to make it better."

Altman studies the tendencies of opponents and shares the insight with teammates. His influence extends to the defense, where he is a free safety.

"He's invaluable to us," Wegher said. "He makes us better."

Altman gathers his thoughts the night before a game. On a typical Thursday, he leaves practice early to take two-hour acupuncture treatments.

It's there that Altman prepares his mind and heals his body.

"I'm addicted to it," he said. "When I'm on the table, that clears my mind and helps me focus. It relaxes me. I fall right asleep."

Sometimes, he'll dream about the game.

"It's what I'm always thinking about when I pass out," he said.

Friday night, Altman keeps opponents on pins and needles.

"That's why he's been so good," Denove said. "He's smart and quick inside his head. Then he can run them over or he can juke them."

Even Altman never calculated that Agoura, which hasn't been in the semifinals since 1989, would be playing in December.

"It's pretty amazing," he said. "I don't think anyone knew how fun this was going to be."

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