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Tackling New Challenge

Not Just a Fill-In, This Monarch Wants a Name for Himself


Darius Williams faces perhaps the thorniest task in the Southern Section this fall: replacing Matt Grootegoed on both sides of the football.

You remember Grootegoed, right? The leading man for the Mater Dei Monarchs last season, the tailback who ran like a fullback, the safety who tackled opponents with the force of a battering ram en route to becoming The Times' Glenn Davis Award winner as the top high school football player in Southern California? The player whom Mater Dei Coach Bruce Rollinson referred to as the best in school history?

Well, Grootegoed is at USC now.

And that leaves Williams, a sinewy 6-foot, 190-pound senior with limited experience, to take his place at running back and free safety for the Monarchs.

It's an unenviable task, to say the least.

But Williams at least has this much going for him: No one is putting any pressure on him.

Rollinson and Williams realize it would be unfair to approach tonight's opener against Fallbrook at Santa Ana Stadium--and the rest of the season, for that matter--with the mind-set that Williams has to make things happen the way Grootegoed did. More likely than not, it would make Williams' task even more difficult.

So the coach and the player are acting as if Williams is his own man rather than someone replacing a departed star.

"I'm not presenting it to him as filling [Grootegoed's] shoes," Rollinson said. "Basically, what we would like him to do is concentrate and focus and play to the best of his abilities. We're not going to put the pressure on him as far as the comparison games go.

"Hopefully, he will establish his own identity so that in the future people will say, 'Well, they've got an exciting running back and another good defensive back for Mater Dei football.' "

Said Williams: "I really don't feel any pressure. I'm just trying to do my best and play my game. I'm not looking to replace Grootegoed, just play my game."

He has already shown flashes of potential despite playing in only one varsity game. When Grootegoed went down with an ankle sprain early in Mater Dei's Southern Section Division I championship game against Long Beach Poly last December, Williams, Grootegoed's understudy on defense, took over at free safety. Initially, he struggled to find his place on the field.

"I told him, 'Son, everyone wants to jump in the swimming pool, but you're in the whirlpool now and I can't throw you a life vest,' " Rollinson said.

In the second half, though, Williams regrouped, causing the fumble that allowed the Monarchs to get back in the game and eventually tie the Jackrabbits, 21-21.

"That gave me some game experience and allowed me to know what it takes to play in a big game," Williams said. "It should help."

Williams' first carry in tonight's game will be the first of his varsity career. But running the football, he said, is his strength. Rollinson called Williams "a glider."

"He's very smooth when he runs. He's not exceptionally quick, but he can make the quick cut if he has to."

Senior guard Steve Carrillo said Williams' running style is different than Grootegoed's.

"Darius is more of a slashing running back," Carrillo said. "He makes moves, gets around people and through smaller holes. Grootegoed was more power. He could get through you if he had to."

Rollinson does expect Williams to mimic Grootegoed in at least one way: by becoming a household name by season's end.

"It's not going to surprise me when his numbers keep coming up among the top five or six running backs in the county," Rollinson said. "Down the road, I think he's going to be an all-county type of player."

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