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Time To Be Ware

Limited to Offense Through Early Part of Schedule, Loyola Quarterback Gets Chance to Show His Two-Way Skills as Highly Touted Defensive Back

October 05, 2000|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The entrance to the locker room at Loyola High is bedecked with a blue-and-white sign that reads: "Through these halls pass the finest prep athletes in the state."

Matt Ware was not the inspiration for that statement, but he could have been.

Ware, a sinewy 6-foot-4, 205-pound senior, is the mutitalented quarterback for the unbeaten Cubs (4-0), who get their first major test of the season Saturday night in a nonleague game against Newhall Hart (3-1). Ware is also regarded as one of the nation's top defensive backs--even though he has not started in the secondary this season.

"He's probably the best athlete I've ever had playing quarterback," said Steve Grady, who is in his 25th season as Loyola's coach. "We made a decision that we needed to keep Matt healthy through the first part of the season so he would be ready for Hart and our league schedule.

"I think he was frustrated at the beginning of the year by not starting on defense, but we've progressed to this point without having to use him much."

Ware, 17, will finally start both ways against Hart as Loyola continues the pursuit of its first Southern Section Division I title since 1990.

"I can't wait," said Ware, who has committed to UCLA. "Not starting on defense has been tough because I love to hit people."

Ware thus far has had to settle for hitting receivers with passes and crashing into opposing defenders when he runs the ball. His offensive exploits helped the Cubs beat San Francisco St. Ignatius, Harbor City Narbonne, Pasadena Muir and Santa Barbara.

"He is very difficult to defend because he can do so many things," Hart Coach Mike Herrington said. "He's all over field. He does everything out there."

Ware has passed for 424 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 256 yards and five touchdowns this season. Not surprisingly, he plays offense with a defensive player's mind-set. He runs and jumps with grace, but rarely chooses the path of least resistance.

"If you're coming after me, I'm coming after you," said Ware, who lives in Malibu. "If I'm running with the ball, there is going to be a collision.

"I can hear Coach Grady yelling, 'Get out of bounds! What are you doing?' but that's not my mentality."

Loyola lineman Keith Ornelas, who has committed to California, said the Cubs feed off Ware's aggressiveness on offense.

"He just doesn't go down on a first hit," Ornelas said. "He gets up after he's finally been tackled as if he made the hit."

Ware has been leading by example on the football field since enrolling at Loyola in 1997.

He was a quarterback and safety for Loyola's freshman team, then moved up to the varsity as a sophomore and played defense exclusively.

He began his junior season as a safety, wide receiver and kick returner and became the quarterback when starter Eric McClenahan was injured in midseason. Ware kept the job and passed for 786 yards, rushed for 346 yards and had 200 yards in receptions as Loyola advanced to the Division I quarterfinals. The Cubs lost to Los Alamitos, 30-23, in double overtime after a 60-yard field goal by Los Alamitos' Chris Kluwe sent the game into overtime.

Ware's only consolation was that he would one day be teammates with Kluwe at UCLA.

Ware's father, Bernard, and mother, Julie, both attended UCLA. So when he participated in a Bruin football camp the summer before his junior season, Ware was intent on making an impression.

"I was lining up against receivers and doing a pretty good job of shutting them down," Ware said. "I saw Coach [Bob] Toledo standing over there. It seemed like everywhere I went, he was standing over there watching me. I was like, 'Maybe I'm getting a look right now.' "

UCLA offered Ware a scholarship after last season. He committed to the Bruins without a second thought.

"I was raised going to UCLA basketball games and the Rose Bowl," Ware said. "I know all about Kenny Easley and the tradition of great safeties. I would have committed to UCLA when I was 5 or 6 if I could have."

With his college plans set, Ware reported for Loyola's preseason workouts last August. He intended to never come off the field this season. Then Grady informed him of his limited-use plan.

"At first I was in shock," Ware said. "When he said I wasn't going to start on defense, I was thinking, 'Wait a minute. I love to hit. What's going on?' "

The emergence of sophomore defensive back Quentin Daniels and Loyola's fast start have eased Ware's anxiety.

But he is more than ready to become a two-way player again, especially against defending Division III champion Hart.

Two years ago, Loyola defeated the Indians, 23-22, when Hart mishandled the snap on a last-second, 20-yard field-goal attempt.

Last year, Hart whipped the Cubs, 26-7.

"They spanked us," Ware said. "They just physically beat us up.

"Hopefully, this will be our year to beat up on them. And I can't wait to get in on it."

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