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No Drop-Off

Los Alamitos makes sure it remains in good hands with its talented receiving corps

November 30, 2002|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

It's a simple credo. At pass-happy Los Alamitos High, it's as sensible as calling a pass play on third and 13.

It goes like this: If you drop the ball as a receiver, you won't play. You might as well turn in your jersey and equipment. Or, at the very least, switch positions. Or sports.

Los Alamitos has qualified for the playoffs 19 consecutive seasons without the help of a wild-card berth, the longest such streak in Southern Section Division I football, and it isn't because its receivers have cement hands.

Before Friday, senior Brandon Tripp had dropped one ball in a game -- when he was a sophomore.

Sophomore Jeremy Childs, who looks like the next great receiver in a long line at Los Alamitos, knows what happens when a ball is dropped in practice.

"Twenty-five push-ups on your fingertips," Childs said, shaking his head slowly. "Our coaches demand perfection."

Perfection is what Los Alamitos coaches usually get from their receivers. In all likelihood, this will be the 18th consecutive season that a Griffin receiver has been selected to an All-Southern Section team. In the last 10 years, Brad Melsby went to UCLA, Tyler Cashman to USC, Keenan Howry and Tony Hartley to Oregon. Childs is destined for a scholarship. Tripp could also get one, if he wasn't already fielding scholarship offers for baseball.

The success can be traced to Coach John Barnes' run-and-shoot system, in which precise route-running and flawless catching techniques are stressed over and over. Catch the ball away from the body, with your hands. Don't try to catch it against your body because it will bang off your shoulder pads.

No matter what, don't drop it.

Even in adverse conditions, like the heavy rains Los Alamitos experienced Friday during its Division I quarterfinal game at La Puente Bishop Amat, the Griffins manage to pass enough to keep an opponent off balance.

Bishop Amat and the weather conditions limited Jeff Kline to 110 yards passing, but the Griffins (11-0-1) still did enough to defeat the Lancers, 30-24. Los Alamitos will play Loyola in a semifinal next Saturday at Edison Field.

Lining up in the shotgun set on every play, Kline ran 17 times for 73 yards and also completed 10 of 21 passes, including a 21-yard scoring pass to Childs early in the second half that tied the score, 21-21. Los Alamitos also got 125 yards and three touchdowns rushing from Ryan Bagley.

Like the weather, the night wasn't perfect, though. There was a dropped pass -- the second of Tripp's career.

Los Alamitos coaches greet dropped passes with the same contempt as they might welcome their defense to the sideline right after an opponent scored on a triple-reverse pitch pass.

"To drop balls here is totally unacceptable," said Thadd MacNeal, the Griffins' fifth-year receivers coach. .

Howry, who had 73 catches and 21 touchdowns as a senior at Los Alamitos in 1998, still winces when asked about dropping passes.

"A dropped pass to us was pretty much a fumble or a three-yard loss on a run," Howry said. "You just didn't do it."

Los Alamitos coaches make sure of it.

There are "bad ball" drills, with passes purposely under-thrown, overthrown and thrown behind a receiver. There are also "distraction" drills, with a defensive player jumping in front of a receiver to disrupt concentration, and "individual rapid-fire drills," where two quarterbacks take turns firing at a stationary receiver, who catches the ball, drops it to the side and prepares for another throw.

During a "machine gun" drill at practice Wednesday this week, Los Alamitos assistant coach Gene Vollnogle gestured toward the organized chaos. Two quarterbacks were firing passes at receivers running routes, then another two quarterbacks stepped in and fired away at two other receivers. It was nonstop. No time to rest.

"We do more passing in that 10-15 minutes than most teams do in two weeks," Vollnogle said. "And we'll do more. We're always throwing the ball."

The goal for Los Alamitos receivers is to catch 100 balls a day. It starts before practice, with players throwing the ball back and forth before stretching. Then there's a seven-on-seven passing drill. Then the same seven-man drill without a defense, passing "against air," coaches call it. Then the machine-gun drill.

It's not just catching and route-running. Los Alamitos receivers also must block, or face a fine.

When watching game film, Los Alamitos coaches expect to see defensive backs driven out of the picture on running plays. Receivers that miss a block must fork over a dollar. Whoever has the least drops at the end of the year gets the poor-blocking pool payoff, now at $24. Tripp is currently winning.

But Los Alamitos football is mostly about the pass and catch.

Howry holds the Oregon record with 168 receptions and is second with 2,648 yards receiving, 96 behind Hartley, who played at Los Alamitos from 1993-96.

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