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Dove Season

Junior Quarterback's Intelligence, Skills Propel Taft High

November 20, 2001|Eric Sondheimer

When college coaches start conducting background checks on quarterback Cary Dove of Woodland Hills Taft High, they're going to kiss the ground and scream, "Hallelujah, I've found one!"

Dove is being groomed to become a success on and off the field. He's 16 and still washes dishes at home, whether he throws four touchdown passes or has four passes intercepted.

"I hate washing dishes," he said.

But he follows his parents' orders, washing dishes and taking out the trash.

"I think they're trying to teach me responsibility," he said.

For 10 years, Coach Troy Starr has followed a simple formula for choosing his quarterbacks. Arm strength isn't No. 1 on his list of requirements. He checks his roster to see who has good grades, narrows the list by investigating a player's work ethic, then selects his quarterback.

"Any coach who would put a knucklehead at quarterback is a bigger knucklehead," Starr said. "If you can't make decisions in life, how are you going to make decisions on the football field?"

While opposing coaches wondered during the summer which quarterback might transfer to Taft, Starr confidently planned to promote Dove from the freshman-sophomore team.

"Dove fit the mold," Starr said. "He's extremely intelligent, an excellent citizen, with a tremendous work ethic. He has a cannon for an arm."

But even Starr has been surprised by Dove's rapid development. The 6-foot-2, 160-pound junior has passed for 2,661 yards and 28 touchdowns in guiding Taft (8-2) into Wednesday night's City Championship quarterfinal game against Carson (9-1).

"Dove has just blossomed," Starr said. "He's so far ahead of where I thought he would be. I'm convinced he's going to be a major-college player, the top echelon."

Only months ago, others were not so sold on Dove. The team's receivers, when asked who the quarterback would be, didn't know. Like Dove, they were waiting to see if a transfer student was going to check in.

"The buzz started going around," Dove said. "I wasn't worried about who was going to come in. I was trying to focus on learning the plays and getting better. I just felt I had to prove myself."

Dove won the starting position.

"It came down to, there was no one else," Starr said.

But in the opener, a 21-14 loss to Crenshaw, Starr became convinced that Dove could handle the job. He had set up Dove to fail, giving him too many formations to learn in short order.

"I wanted to see him battle through it," Starr said. "It was probably unfair. You're supposed to bring along somebody like him slowly. I learned after that game he was going to be good. He never flinched."

There would be another rough game for Dove, a 40-21 defeat by Van Nuys Birmingham. He missed open receivers early and threw three passes that were intercepted. But he also completed several difficult passes and continued learning.

"I'm more comfortable understanding my reads," he said. "I don't let the pressure get to me. I got a little scared, a little intimidated."

Dove got an A in math analysis, something Starr spotted when trying to identify a quarterback candidate. Further scrutiny revealed more promising information about Dove.

"I've always wanted to play quarterback," he said. "It's a position like no other. The quarterback has to be responsible, has to be smart and I fit those requirements."

Dove can thank his parents, Adrian and Lauren, for teaching him to follow through on responsibilities. It goes back to washing those dishes.

"If you don't do the dishes, you get warned," Dove said. "If you leave a big stack of dishes overnight, you'll get yelled at."

Dove can handle a verbal blast from Starr. But hearing it from his father about dirty dishes? That's something he tries to avoid at all costs.

Some Southern Section supporters enjoy making fun of the City Section, but let's set the record straight: The quarterfinal matchups of the City Championship football tournament are better balanced and more competitive than those in any division of the Southern Section.

Any of the eight remaining teams could win the City title. The same can't be said in the Southern Section, where you'll see several more 42-7 routs in this weekend's quarterfinals.

Remember, Ventura St. Bonaventure scored 80 points against Calabasas in its Division XI playoff opener. That alone tells you something about the quality of early Southern Section matchups.

In the City, these games will be exciting: Taft at Carson, Fremont (8-2) at Birmingham (10-0), Dorsey (7-3) at Westchester (9-1) and Sylmar (8-2) vs. Crenshaw (9-0) at South Gate.


Eric Sondheimer can be reached at

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