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Dlugolecki, Eagles Are Well-Positioned

UCLA-bound senior is happy to be back at quarterback, and he plans to upgrade Santa Margarita to elite status in Division I.


Yes, Matt Dlugolecki concedes, he was completely out of his element last season at Santa Margarita. Not only was he nearly 3,000 miles from his childhood home in Mechanicsburg, Pa., but he was primarily playing receiver instead of quarterback, the position at which he had thrived the previous year at Cumberland Valley High.

Yet, Dlugolecki smiles wryly when he recalls those tough times, which for the Eagles included an embarrassing 34-0 loss to archrival Mater Dei and a disappointing 6-5 finish that saw them bow out of the Southern Section Division I playoffs in the first round.

That was then, the senior points out.

This is now.

Now is an opportunity for the Eagles to make amends, to accomplish goals and to show their high-powered brethren that Santa Margarita does indeed belong among the big boys in only its second season in Division I.

Dlugolecki smiles because he knows he is the catalyst who can make it all happen.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound drop-back quarterback possesses the skills and size to make Santa Margarita a contender in the Serra League and the playoffs. UCLA has already bought into Dlugolecki's game, landing a commitment earlier this summer, and so have his teammates.

"He knows where to place the ball and the right patterns," junior receiver Curtis Cooper said. "He knows when to throw the touch ball and the dart."

Said senior left tackle Ryan Lumm: "I have a lot of confidence in him. He's been working hard in the weight room and on the field. I think it's going to transfer over into his game."

Dlugolecki's supporting cast should make him all the more dangerous. The Eagles have a fleet of fast receivers in Cooper and Renny Jackson, an experienced offensive line and a promising running game led by Tyler Thompson.

"The team clicks, and we all work together," Dlugolecki said. "There's a lot of guys in the weight room where there weren't a lot last year."

In 1999, coaches felt the Eagles were so lax in their off-season conditioning that they canceled the spring game. It foreshadowed a disastrous campaign.

Dlugolecki had hoped to make a difference at quarterback that year after joining the team a few weeks after Easter. But his plans were thwarted when another high-profile transfer, Florida State-bound quarterback Chris Rix, was added to the roster about a week later. Rix won the starting job and Dlugolecki was moved to receiver.

"I was disappointed," Dlugolecki said, "but I just wanted to help the team out. They moved me to receiver, but I didn't really get to touch the ball a lot. In practice, I worked my butt off and tried to get better."

While Rix was a terrific athlete, someone who could turn a broken play into a touchdown, he struggled at quarterback. The losses piled up. And by the last game of the regular season, Coach Jim Hartigan had no choice but to give Dlugolecki a shot to jump-start the Eagles' offense. Rix was moved to receiver.

Dlugolecki came through with a 216-yard performance against Servite and threw for 139 yards in Santa Margarita's playoff loss to Fontana A.B. Miller.

"I felt good, especially with Rix at receiver," Dlugolecki said. "You've got to put your athletes in the best position possible. We should have done that a little earlier."

In Dlugolecki, the Eagles have a senior leader who isn't afraid to speak his mind. They also have a quarterback who commands the respect of his teammates.

"You look at him, you think he's a big guy going to a big college. It's pretty intimidating," Cooper said. "But he's just one of us. He's not cocky. He never yells. He has a good temperament and is always poised."

Dlugolecki's composure is an extension of his experience. He has played on the varsity since his freshman year and as a sophomore emerged as Cumberland Valley's starting quarterback.

He acknowledges he needs to improve his speed--his 40-yard time of 4.85 won't win any sprints--but his quick reads and deft touch make him a constant threat to pull off the big play.

More than a year after arriving in Southern California with his father, who relocated the family here because of a job transfer, Dlugolecki has come to enjoy his new digs.

"The major difference between California and Pennsylvania is the yards," he said. "We had a creek in our backyard and like three acres of land. Me and my dad would go out there every day and throw the ball. Out here, we've got this little plot of land with a house this close [holds his hands about a foot apart] to us."

Dlugolecki smiles again. Small yard or big yard, he's back in his element, a ball in his hands and an entire season in front of him.

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