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FOOTBALL

Rhema McKnight a Slam-Dunk for Irish

October 03, 2000|MARTIN HENDERSON

In only his second year of organized football, Rhema McKnight has turned into one of Kennedy's most dangerous offensive weapons. McKnight, a junior, didn't play football as a freshman, but Coach Mitch Olson saw him playing in a varsity basketball summer-league game.

"I saw him dunk over this kid and I said, 'Man, you've got to come out for football,' " Olson recalled. "He has started from the first day he stepped on the field."

McKnight played in the shadow of Steve Yaden last season but caught 30 passes for 325 yards. Even if McKnight doesn't lead the Fighting Irish in receptions, he can still get everyone's attention. He also plays defensive back and returns punts.

"He may not catch a ball," Olson said, "but you watch him and you just go, 'Whoa.' "

Friday, for example, McKnight caught only three passes for 40 yards against Valencia, which double-teamed him to prevent the big play, and he returned a punt 88 yards for a touchdown.

With 15 catches for 387 yards, he is averaging 25.8 yards per reception.

In three games--he did not play the first week--he has two punt returns for touchdowns of 39 and 88 yards, and receiving touchdowns of 71, 68 and 89 yards.

HE DOES IT FOR A KICK

Ocean View's Ramon Murillo is 6 feet 3 and 340 pounds, so as one might expect, the senior plays on both the Seahawks' offensive and defensive lines.

But Murillo also fills an unexpected role: kicker.

He doesn't boot extra points or field goals--sophomore Rick Sweetin takes care of those--but Murillo is the Seahawks' kickoff specialist. His kicking style is old-fashioned, straight-ahead toe-kick style, but his approach to striking the ball isn't exactly scientific. "I just kick it," he says.

Murillo doesn't exactly boom the ball--most of his kicks reach about the 15-yard line--but he takes advantage of those by partaking in something he's more adept at. "Tackling, that's the best thing about [kicking]," he said.

Imagine that, returning a kickoff and being leveled by a 340-pound kicker.

RUNNING NOT-SO-WILD

Irvine has been so dominant that its starting quarterback, Travis Otott, has played into the fourth quarter only once.

The Vaqueros have outscored opponents in the first half, 147-11. By quarter, the advantages are 85-0, 62-11, 23-13 and 21-19.

Irvine Coach Terry Henigan's experience has served him well in these situations. He removed his primary starters at halftime against Century with a 30-0 lead, and mid-fourth quarter against Orange Lutheran.

"Coach Henigan was ultra gracious against Saddleback--he played until the game was secure, which is what you should do," Orange Lutheran Coach Jim Kunau said.

Similarly, Kunau had no problems with Otott passing for a fourth-quarter touchdown in a 55-14 victory.

"That's what we would have tried to do if the role was reversed," said Kunau, whose team converted two onside kicks, a fake punt at its own 26 and attempted two two-point conversions to try to get back in the game. "We were continuing to try to make our best effort."

LITTLE TO CHEER FOR

Sometimes the 40-strong Century cheer squad--about the same size as the football team--is larger than the crowd that attends the Centurions' home games, according to senior Veronica Velez, a cheerleader.

"It kind of hurts," Velez said of defeats such as Thursday's 28-21 loss to Sonora. "But we still have hopes for the team."

Those hopes are for a team that is 9-44-1 since 1995 and 1-3 this season. "It's fun to cheer," said Henry Santos, another cheerleader, "even if we are not the best."

NO BIG DEAL

Liberty Christian's football game against Southlands Christian, postponed on Sept. 23 because no officials showed up, will not be rescheduled, Liberty Christian Athletic Director Bryan Speer said.

National Federation rules prohibit teams playing more than two games in an eight-day period, "and there is no point in the schedule that either of us can maintain that rule," said Speer, who originally had hoped to make up the game today.

Even though it is an Express League game, the Minutemen (2-1, 1-0) could benefit from not playing.

"For playoffs, it's better that we don't play them," Speer said. "Our power-point rating is 2.4--if we play them and win, it would bring our average down. Playoff seeding beyond league champions is based on power points first and then overall record."

In eight-man football, teams get two points for a victory, one for a tie, one for scheduling a larger school, one for beating a larger school and an additional point for beating a league champion.

SEEKING RESPECT

Doug Case in his first season at Foothill, is trying to gain some respect for his program after coming over from Rancho Alamitos, where he helped the Vaqueros win three league titles in seven seasons and reach a section title game. But when Case opened the game program before Friday's contest against Laguna Hills at Mission Viejo High, he had to feel a little like Rodney Dangerfield. Listed above his squad's roster was the title "Fountain Valley High."

EXTRA YARDAGE

Cypress is the only 5-0 team in Orange County. OK, so the Centurions are one of only two county teams to have played five games. But if Cypress' fast start is any indication, the Centurions are on to something special. They have outscored opponents by an average score of 35-4. . . . Fountain Valley receiver Manuel Diaz remained hospitalized Monday with a staph infection stemming from the Barons' game against Dana Hills on Sept. 8. Diaz was injured by a cleat during the game.

Staff writers Ben Bolch, Melanie Neff, Paul McLeod and correspondents Mike Haubrich and Pat Larkin contributed to this report.

If you have an item or idea for the high school football report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at ben.bolch@latimes.com or martin.henderson@latimes.com

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