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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Smith's Outlook Is Starry-Eyed

November 02, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

A smorgasbord of notes, quotes and opinions from across Southern California:

Troy Starr, football coach at Woodland Hills Taft High, has repeatedly lectured reporters not to hype junior receiver/cornerback Steve Smith, but even Starr is having trouble controlling his enthusiasm.

"Did you see his cape flapping in the wind as he ran by?" Starr blurted out last week after Smith ran 51 yards for a touchdown with an interception.

Smith has a school-record 11 interceptions in seven games. He has caught 50 passes for 1,030 yards and is averaging 20.6 yards per catch. Last season as a sophomore, he caught a school-record 94 passes.

"At times, he's unbelievable," Starr said.

Smith does make mistakes. Sometimes he's too aggressive and gets burned for touchdowns.

"Sometimes I get a little too excited," Smith said. "I see an open man and want to go get him."

But Smith is so good it's hard to believe he's only 16.

"He could play right now for most Division I schools," Starr said.

Smith is scheduled to take the SAT on Saturday. If he scores high enough, he'll have the option of choosing any college in the nation in 2003.


Newhall Hart (7-0) has won three consecutive Division III football championships, but the Indians are no longer a cinch to win this season's title. In the last two weeks, they've lost two of their fastest players to injury, running back Tim Gregory and receiver Julian Lewis.

It creates the opportunity for three schools to threaten the Indians during the Division III playoffs: Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (7-0), with lineman Tim Volk and quarterback Phil Beckmann; Crescenta Valley (8-0), with quarterback Hudson Gossard and receiver Dan Moody, and Manhattan Beach Mira Costa (8-0), with running back Michael Okwo.

Of course, Hart Coach Mike Herrington isn't in a panic mood quite yet.

"We're still confident," he said.

That's because the Indians have capable backups stepping in for Gregory and Lewis. But when a team loses speed, the margin for error lessens, making the Indians vulnerable against a quality team.


College coaches searching for a tight end would be wise to take a trip to Mission Viejo and watch 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior James Webster of Trabuco Hills.

He had never played tackle football before this season. He didn't know how to put on shoulder pads or thigh pads.

"All I knew was how to catch a ball and run," he said.

After eight games, he's proving to be a rising football talent. He has caught 25 passes for 433 yards and two touchdowns. He has the speed of a running back, which makes him invaluable at tight end.

Suddenly, football is the sport he wants to play in college. He has been a starter for Trabuco Hills' basketball and baseball teams.

"I wish I had played [football] my whole life," he said. "In basketball, I'm the guy always battling, getting bruises. I'm always on the floor getting bloody noses. Football offered me a chance to go lay my body on the line. It's a good feeling knowing you left everything out there."

Webster has literally learned the game from scratch.

"I'm almost like a baby learning to talk," he said.

Learning how to block has been his biggest challenge, but Coach Bill Crow believes Webster has a future in football.

"He's got that street fighter mentality, where he doesn't mind mixing it up," he said.

Trabuco Hills will be battling host Mission Viejo, No. 2 in The Times' rankings, for the South Coast League title tonight.


Too many times, animosity erupts between football coaches when rumors circulate about players planning to switch schools.

A group of football coaches in Ventura County meets every Friday morning to build rapport and strengthen communication.

Jim Benkert of Westlake, Bill Redell of Oaks Christian, George Hurley of Newbury Park and Mike Sanders of Thousand Oaks get together and discuss various issues involving their programs. They've invited Charlie Wegher of Agoura and Dick Billingsley of Oak Park to join them for breakfast.

"Any type of rumor comes up, we address it right away," Redell said.

It's a great idea for coaches to build relationships that can last through trying times. Others should join them.

Of course, there will be a weekly argument over who picks up the breakfast tab.


Trevor Bell, a freshman infielder at Crescenta Valley, has been listed as the No. 1 14-year-old in the country by Baseball America magazine. "He has a very quick bat," Coach Phil Torres said.

Andrew Beal, a sophomore pitcher at Palos Verdes Peninsula, is rated No. 1 for 15-year-olds.

Eddie Baeza, a right-handed senior pitcher from Sun Valley Poly, is emerging as one of the hardest throwers in Southern California.

He has been clocked consistently between 88 and 94 mph pitching for a scout team this winter, according to Parrot Coach Chuck Schwal.


Van Nuys Grant will retire the jersey of former All-City basketball player Gilbert Arenas at its alumni game Nov. 19 at 7:15 p.m. Arenas, who plays for the Golden State Warriors, is scheduled to attend the game.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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