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PREP FOOTBALL 2000 / EMPIRE LEAGUE

Haller, Stanton Take the Lead at Katella

After a meandering '99 season, the senior quarterback and center still have a hopeful outlook for the Knights in 2000.

September 01, 2000|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Last season was a frustrating procession of mistakes and lost opportunities at Katella High, where quarterback Chris Haller and center Mike Stanton often sat around and talked about what could have been.

"That's what killed us in the most crucial times, mental mistakes," said Stanton, a first-team All-Empire League selection. "I didn't see any leadership out of anyone last year, either, and that left room for anyone not really caring if those mistakes were being made."

This fall, with a solid front line and a proven passing attack returning, Stanton and Haller begin their third consecutive varsity season together. They've vowed to make a bigger statement this time.

That won't be easy, since the Empire League is expected to be as tough as ever. And the Knights, 3-7 last year, don't exactly have a shining history to point to. Still, Haller and Stanton are confident.

"With the senior class we have this year, we're looking to compete for the league title," Haller said. "I think we have a good chance because of all this hard work. The dedication in the weight room and on the field should pay off."

Of course, emotions are high at most schools this time of year. But Haller and his center believe the off-season cohesion built by the team will pay dividends in the regular season when a playoff spot is up for grabs.

"Everyone is expecting that we won't be so strong, and in wanting to prove them wrong, we have worked hard," Haller said. "I think there'll be a big [surprise] somewhere in the league this year."

Haller's abilities were evident in spurts last season, like the time he rallied the Knights from a two-touchdown deficit in the fourth quarter for a 24-17 victory over El Dorado. A second team all-league choice, he passed for 1,359 yards and nine touchdowns.

But more typical of Katella's season was the game against Cypress. The Knights rallied from an 11-point deficit to get close, but lost, 26-23, a defeat that ultimately cost Katella a playoff bid. Haller says he often reminds himself about those kinds of failures.

"There were a couple of tough losses that were decided at the end of the games," Haller said. "We could have been up there for the league title, but mental mistakes hurt us and kept us out of the playoffs."

Coach Dominik Unger says that Haller and Stanton are well-suited for their roles.

"Chris is not a great athlete. He's a great leader," Unger said of Haller. "A lot of players look up to him for leadership and he delivers in that department. He's not going to beat too many people in the 40-yard dash, but we're not going to ask him to. He's one of those guys who goes out there and gets his three yards in a cloud of dust, picks himself up and does it again."

Not large by today's standards, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound Stanton captains a tight-knit offensive line that is expected to open holes for the backfield. Stanton is joined by right tackle Richard Nieto, right guard Jose Arranda, left tackle David Emery and left guard Jesse Allen.

"It's the best line we've had here in at least three years," Unger said. "There are a lot of returning starters, a lot of guys who have put in a lot of time to get better."

And they work well together, Stanton said.

"We're so much more physical this year because of the work we did in the off-season," he said. "Along with that, everyone has his head together. Mentally, everyone wants to work harder for it this season."

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