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Backfield Standouts Are Small Wonders

September 27, 2000|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Miguel Armendariz is 5 feet 5, 165 pounds. Carlos Portillo is 5-3, 155 pounds.

These are peewee-sized football players. You have to see them in Notre Dame High uniforms to believe they're the starting running backs for the seventh-ranked team in the region.

Armendariz has scored seven touchdowns at fullback. Portillo has rushed for 76 yards at tailback.

They're small enough to stuff in a locker. Teammates can pick them up with one arm.

"They toss us around like rag dolls," Portillo said.

Never in Coach Kevin Rooney's 21 years at Notre Dame has he started two players in the offensive backfield as small as Armendariz and Portillo.

No one at Notre Dame is complaining. They're proving you don't have to be big to play high school football.

"I have to admit the first time I saw them, I didn't know what to think," said assistant coach Aron Gideon. "Appearances can be deceiving."

Armendariz and Portillo had to convince the boss at their summer job they were leaving early for football practice.

"He wouldn't believe us," Armendariz said. "He wanted to know, 'What are you doing playing football?' "

Saugus players don't need any convincing of Armendariz's skills. They watched in frustration as he sprinted 88 yards for a touchdown Friday night. He finished with 124 yards rushing in seven carries.

"I've never seen anybody my size play, especially the position we have," Armendariz said.

Added Portillo: "It takes heart to show what we can do."

Both have good speed and a knack for picking up yards after initial contact.

"They're two of the strongest guys on our team," Rooney said. "They both believe in their ability irregardless of their height. It's not something that limits them in any way."

Their low center of gravity allows them to sneak through holes others couldn't.

Not that they wouldn't want to be taller.

"I still have hopes and dreams," Armendariz said.

The toughest part for the two seniors is walking past the freshmen lockers and barely coming up to the shoulders of some 14- and 15-year-olds.

But neither has lost his sense of humor.

"Put us together and we'll be one football player," Armendariz said.

Every yard they gain and every block they make topples another barrier and erodes another stereotype.


How good is cornerback Ryan Foltz of Westlake?

"Foltz is one of the best players we've ever played against," said offensive coordinator Dean Herrington of Hart.

He's so good that quarterback Kyle Matter wants him to become his college teammate.

"When Matter heard [Foltz has] a 4.0 [grade-point average], he said he was going to talk to him about going to Stanford," Herrington said. . . .

How good is sophomore receiver Steve Smith of Taft?

Good enough that USC has already offered him a scholarship as a 15-year-old, said Coach Troy Starr. USC also has made an offer to senior receiver Chris Morgan. . . .

Coach Anthony Harris of Campbell Hall thinks he has the small-schools version of Smith in sophomore Derrick Williams.

"A lot of people talk how athletic Steve is and how he makes big plays," Harris said. "Derrick is the same way."

Williams, who's close to 6-3 and plays receiver and defensive back, had two interceptions and caught two touchdown passes last week against Malibu. He has been playing football for only two years. Like Smith, he's also an outstanding basketball player.

"He's a very physical tackler," Harris said. . . .

Bill Redell coached Crespi to the Southern Section Division I football title in 1986. He coached St. Francis to the semifinals last season. But if he ever gets voted into a coaching hall of fame, it will be for the fumblerooski, his favorite trick play.

On Saturday, guard Scott Feskens of Oaks Christian's junior varsity team ran 34 yards for a touchdown, picking the ball off the ground and running to his right while everyone else went left. In two fumblerooski plays this season, Feskens has gained 75 yards.

Oaks Christian dedicated its $1.5-million football stadium. It's the only local high school stadium with a 25-second clock that is intended to help teams get off plays before being called for delay of game.

"Our plays are so long we can't even say them in 25 seconds," Redell said.

Oaks Christian will begin construction of an all-weather tartan track this week. Its 50-meter Olympic pool is almost complete. On its impressive facilities alone, Oaks Christian has already separated itself from most schools. . . .

Former Glendale College baseball coach Denny Barrett has resigned as an assistant at Lewis-Clark State College in Idaho and returned to Southern California to work in private business. . . .

Michael Goldman, who played basketball at Calabasas and College of the Canyons, is sitting out this season to improve his defense and work with a private trainer. . . .

For all those pitchers who don't like to do push-ups, take notice: Former El Camino Real pitcher John Koegel, a sophomore at Air Force, is throwing consistently at 88 mph. . . .

Granada Hills has an opening for junior varsity baseball coach. . . .

Stephanie Clark could start as a freshman at point guard for Harvard-Westlake's girls' basketball team. She's the sister of former Chatsworth player Pam Clark. . . .

Pitcher Matt Harrington of Palmdale has been offered a $4 million signing bonus by the Colorado Rockies spread over two years or $5.3 million over eight years that could triple with incentives based on his progress.

Harrington could wait until the 2001 draft, but there are at least two pitchers considered better than him--Josh Karp of UCLA and Mark Prior of USC.

Sign, Matt, sign. There are many more millions to be made in the major leagues. But first, you have to get there. Every day he remains unsigned delays a bigger payday.


Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or

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