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Franklin's Big Talent in Small Package

October 16, 2002|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

The memory of his first start for Franklin's varsity football team remains fresh for Narciso Diaz.

"It was nerve-racking all that week," said Diaz, the Panthers' prolific senior quarterback. "I had to start the playoff game because Danny Gonzalez got hurt. At school, I was so nervous that I even threw up a couple of times."

Unfortunately for Diaz and Franklin, that uneasy feeling carried over to the game. His first pass was intercepted and the Panthers went on to lose, 14-7, to Canoga Park in the opening round of the City Section Invitational playoffs.

A sophomore then, Diaz has come a long way. While leading Franklin to a 4-1 record this season, he has completed 61% of his passes for 1,667 yards and 16 touchdowns. Only five of his attempts have been intercepted.

Diaz is the latest talented player for Coach Armando Gonzalez, one of the City Section's top offensive minds. In 17 years at Franklin, Gonzalez has coached 13 All-City quarterbacks and continues to be one of the few committed to the passing game.

Those signal-callers -- Santiago Alvarez, Ronnie Lopez, Jeff Deno, Erik Garcia and Daniel Gonzalez, to name a few -- have helped create an assembly line of sorts. But Armando Gonzalez's production line often doesn't get the recognition of Newhall Hart's or, in recent years, Woodland Hills Taft's for a couple of reasons:

"They're not 6 feet 2 or 6-3 like Kyle Boller or Kyle Matter and they haven't gone to big Division I programs," Armando Gonzalez said, referring to two former Hart quarterbacks.

"The Herringtons [brothers Mike and Dean] do a great job over there and have coached some quality kids. But he gets kids that are your typical college-type kid already."

Franklin doesn't have a 6-5 quarterback coming in (or in these days transferring in) year after year. All of the Panthers' players come from the lower middle-class neighborhood around the school and most are undersized, at least in the eyes of college recruiters.

That includes, Diaz, who's 5-11, 178 pounds.

"I understand the recruiting aspect," Gonzalez said. "Head coaches tell their guys, 'Don't bring me no 5-10 quarterback.' "

It is a point of pride for the coach: developing quarterbacks who often come in as freshmen with little or no experience at the position. College potential or not, Gonzalez tries to give his players the best experience they can get in high school. He routinely schedules summer passing-league games and tries to get his top players into camps.

In April, Diaz participated in the Nike Camp at USC with wide receiver and teammate Brandon Powers. The camp featured most of the top Southern California football recruits for the Class of 2003.

"I knew I had to do my best and I think I did all right," Diaz said. "It was pure competition, especially when there's guys like [Huntington Beach Edison's] Tommy Grady there."

Diaz is on pace to surpass 3,000 passing yards this season and reach 6,000 for his career. Gonzalez said the keys to his quarterback's success are his strong arm and wrist and quick release.

While that will probably earn Diaz a stop at a community college or Division II university, that won't deter him.

"I'll just have to prove myself there."


Bobby Mesa had yet to make a victory speech since taking over as head coach at Van Nuys last year. In fact, the Wolves hadn't won a game since beating Reseda in the final week of the 2000 regular season.

As Van Nuys saw its 17-point halftime lead over host Canoga Park being whittled to three late in the fourth quarter on Friday, panic nearly set in on the visitors' sideline.

"Of course they got nervous," Mesa said. "You're afraid you're never going to get that win."

Van Nuys held on for a 17-14 victory, ending a 14-game losing streak.

"The smiles on their faces meant everything to me," Mesa said of his players. "They were just dying for a win so bad. I was especially happy for those kids who stuck with me and believed in the system."

Many around school were well aware of the streak. Mesa said a couple of teachers had made disparaging remarks about his team but he also said the school's administration has been behind him all the way.

Some views were changed Friday night. This time, the bus ride home was a jubilant one.

"Some of the band members came up to me and said, 'Coach, that's great that you won,' " Mesa said. "A couple of cheerleaders even had tears in their eyes on the bus. All kids need to have success."


With league play beginning in earnest this week, a review of intersectional games played this season shows less-than-glowing City Section results.

City teams went 10-41-1 against those from other sections. Matchups between the top teams in the City and Southern sections were mostly competitive with Dorsey, Carson and Lake Balboa Birmingham putting major scares into Santa Margarita, Los Alamitos and Hart, respectively.

"He's got them ready to play now," Los Alamitos Coach John Barnes said of Carson Coach John Aguirre after the Griffins' 34-26 victory Friday night. "They're going to be a major factor in the City when it's all said and done."

Hart Coach Mike Herrington had similar things to say about Birmingham after the Indians' 27-14 victory.

"[Coach Ed Croson's] team is very talented and they're very well-coached," Herrington said. "They did some things that really bothered us. They can win the City title."


City top 10: 1. Taft (5-0); 2. Fremont (5-0); 3. Birmingham (3-2); 4. Carson (3-2); 5. San Pedro (3-2); 6. Venice (4-1); 7. Roosevelt (4-1); 8. Banning (2-3); 9. Crenshaw (2-3); 10. Gardena (3-2).

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