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Pressing Onward

Stevens reluctantly steps into spotlight, hoping to lead Peninsula back to top


Craig Stevens doesn't know what to say.

It's the first day of practice for the Rolling Hills Estates Peninsula High football team, and somehow Stevens has been thrust into the spotlight for the Panthers.

Stevens, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior tight end, doesn't know how that came about. Up to and including his freshman year, Stevens played soccer. The only football experience he had was in sandlot pickup games.

"Not even Pop Warner," Stevens said.

Even his experience with the Panthers is limited. He played sparingly as a sophomore and missed five games last season with a broken collarbone.

Still, he's made enough of an impression to attract interest from colleges in conferences such as the Pacific 10, Big 12 and Big 10. Impressive speed--a 4.7-second, 40-yard dash--and strength--he holds the school record with a 300-pound power clean--made him stand out at summer camps and recruiting combines.

Stevens must back that up with a solid senior season and live up to expectations.. He also must lead a Peninsula team that has only six senior starters, even though he is relatively raw.

He speaks timidly during an interview and leaves his helmet on while giving short, nondescript answers. Pressed, he explains.

"I'm not really that quiet, I'm just not used to this," he said. "I mean, I'm thankful for the attention. I guess I just don't know how to deal with it."

Peninsula Coach Tony Uruburu warns not to judge Stevens' on-field ability by his off-field demeanor. His size and strength make him a menace to opposing teams trying to stop Peninsula's running game. Uruburu said Stevens' blocking ability is unparalleled, his hands soft for a big man and his tenacity unquestionable, no matter how calm he acts.

"He's not one of those loud, goofy teenagers," Uruburu said. "He's real low key, doesn't look for attention, but he's the real deal. Everybody that needs to know about him, knows about him."

Last year, Peninsula went 3-7--the first losing season since the school opened in 1991. The Panthers, Southern Section Division II champions in 1997 and semifinalists twice since, did not make the playoffs last season for the first time in school history. In the four years leading into last season, Peninsula lost a combined seven games.

"No one likes that feeling," Stevens said. "It gives me motivation to work harder."

In hopes of turning the team around, Uruburu plans on adding some wrinkles to its option offense based on the ability of his tight end.

"We spent a lot of time this summer figuring out ways to get him the ball," Uruburu said. "It can be a weapon having a guy that big, especially in high school football."

Stevens will also take a crack on defense for the first time as a starting linebacker. He hopes that by playing both ways, he can play a bigger part in helping a proud program rebound from a down year.

"We don't want that to happen again," he said. "I don't even want to think about that. I guess we have a lot to prove."



*--* How They Rate Rating the top tight ends in the Southland SOUTHERN SECTION Player, School Ht Wt Yr Comment 1. Chris Barrett, Tustin 6-5 250 Sr Looks like he has NFL potential 2. Craig Stevens, Peninsula 6-4 240 Sr Has size, strength, mobility 3. Evan Moore, Brea Olinda 6-7 230 Sr He's healthy and gaining attention 4. Michael Horgan, Loyola 6-5 230 Sr Ex-hockey player can catch 5. Adam Gabriel, Monrovia 6-1 210 Sr Also a top middle linebacker 6. Peter Suarez, Los Altos 6-3 260 Sr Aggressive blocker 7. B.A. Harrell, Quartz Hill 6-4 240 Sr Can catch and is a long snapper 8. Ryan Roberts, San Luis 6-4 240 Sr Athletic and makes tough Obispo catches 9. Dale Thompson, Corona 6-4 232 Jr Has great physical skills Santiago 10. Chris Flick, S.O. Notre 6-2 210 Sr Makes tough catches over Dame the middle 11. Dustin Slinkard, Santa 6-3 225 Sr Can be dependable target Margarita 12. Christian Limon, 6-3 235 Sr Has size, athleticism, Coachella Valley good hands 13. Curtis Burgan, Redlands 6-4 235 Sr A three-year starter 14. Dan Krause, Servite 6-4 245 Sr Division I recruit CITY SECTION 1. Thomas Herring, Fremont 6-6 280 Jr Colleges can't wait until he's a senior 2. Fred Earls, Gardena 6-0 190 Sr Speed makes him dangerous target 3. Benedict Idemundia, South 6-1 210 Sr Strong and athletic Gate 4. Tony Sanchez, Roosevelt 6-1 200 Sr A good blocker Eric Sondheimer


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