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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | ERIC SONDHEIMER

They Went From Left Out to Being Right on Schedule

February 04, 2001|ERIC SONDHEIMER

Among the hundreds of high school seniors who played football in the region last season, fewer than 35 will sign letters of intent with four-year schools on Wednesday.

It's a day of excitement for the lucky few, a day of deep disappointment for many others. It's a day when dreams can be fulfilled or shattered.

For those players feeling rejected, don't lose hope.

Two years ago, Joshua Brandon and Omar Stewart were among the seniors left pondering uncertain futures. Brandon was an all-conference cornerback at Granada Hills High. Stewart was an all-conference cornerback at Monroe.

Neither was able to secure an NCAA-required qualifying score on the SAT, so even if a college thought they were good enough to play, they had failed to take care of their academic responsibilities.

Each considered giving up football.

"I was thinking to myself, 'Is football worth it? Am I ever going to get my chance to show my true skills? Should I quit and get a job?' " Brandon said.

Added Stewart: "I thought about quitting. I was thinking about just going to school and getting a job."

Thankfully, they kept going. Each enrolled at College of the Canyons and became better players and better students.

On Wednesday, Brandon will sign with Brigham Young, Stewart with Colorado. Their stories offer inspiration and hope.

"I'm proud of what I am now," Brandon said. "I feel speechless. I'm totally excited."

Said Stewart: "Things happen for a reason and I'm glad I'm here today. I got so many more offers than in high school because I became a better athlete. I think it made me better as a man."

At Granada Hills, Brandon was one of the fastest players on a West Valley League championship team that defeated eventual City champion Taft and finished 12-1. But he was undersized and scored 860 on the SAT when he needed a score better than 1000.

At Monroe, Stewart was considered faster than Brandon but also lacked size. He was getting A's and B's in school, but despite taking an SAT prep class at USC, he scored 800, 20 short of a qualifying score.

Coach Chuck Lyon recruited Brandon and Stewart to Canyons, turning them over to Robert dos Remedios, the strength and conditioning coach. In two years, Brandon has grown from 5 feet 11 to 6-1 and gained 15 pounds to 195. Stewart is 6 feet and put on 17 pounds to 189.

"I've gotten mentally stronger, I've gotten physically stronger," Brandon said.

Stewart was an all-conference cornerback who made four interceptions last season. He excels at man coverage, pressuring receivers and using his improved strength and speed to keep from getting beat deep.

"I didn't get beat once," he said.

Both are on schedule to earn associate in arts degrees that will enable them to transfer next fall.

Stewart no longer sits in the back of classes hiding from teachers. In each of his three classes this semester, he sits in the front row. He intends to sit in the front row in all his classes at Colorado.

"You sit in the front row so the teacher knows who you are," Stewart said. "I made sure all my teachers know me and that I'm there every day."

Stewart said an assistant coach at Canyons informed him the first day he arrived what it would take to earn his degree.

"There's three things to be successful," Stewart said. "You wake up, you show up and you keep up. I followed that."

Brandon is headed to a Brigham Young campus that has strict honor codes, from no alcohol to restrictions on sexual conduct. No problem. He survived the master of discipline, Darryl Stroh, at Granada Hills, so what are a few new rules to worry about?

"I try to be a role model, you can say," Brandon said.

Lyon is thrilled that junior college helped Brandon and Stewart mature into respected players and responsible adults.

"They worked hard for two years," Lyon said. "Those two kids did it and did it well, so they got big-time Division I scholarships."

Brandon knows there are other high school players capable of following in his path.

"There's a lot of talent out there," he said. "They just have to get their stuff together. I just tell them, 'Keep with it. It will pay off.' "

Stewart wants to major in business management at Colorado. He expects to start for the Buffaloes. And, if you're on campus and know what class he's taking, you will surely find him sitting in the front row.

*

Eric Sondheimer's column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com.

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