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High Schools | Eric Sondheimer

Modest in All Things Except Talent

January 03, 2003|Eric Sondheimer

Maurice Drew, at 5 feet 7, is the shortest of the 97 players participating in Saturday's CaliFlorida Bowl IV at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

All it means is once again, he'll make the skeptics look like fools.

"Everyone said I was too small to play running back in high school," he said. "When I got to high school, people were telling me I was too small to go Division I. My whole life, I've been trying to prove people wrong."

Drew has won over the hearts and minds of football fans and recruiters from Southern California to the Bay Area with two years of sensational performances for Concord De La Salle.

In 2001, he scored four touchdowns in handing Long Beach Poly its only defeat. Last season, he rushed for 161 yards in a 28-7 victory over Poly.

This season, he gained 1,459 yards, averaged 11 yards per carry and scored 26 touchdowns to help De La Salle finish unbeaten for the 11th consecutive year.

Recruiters from USC, Oregon, Colorado, Arizona State and California believed enough in his ability to offer him a scholarship.

And coaches for the California all-star team this week have been wowed by Drew's speed and athleticism.

"He's the quickest kid I've ever seen into the hole," assistant coach Jim Benkert said. "He explodes. His first three steps are really challenging the quarterbacks because he's a blur."

As if Drew's football skills weren't impressive enough, his character is off the charts. He's so humble and unassuming that his coach at De La Salle, Bob Ladouceur, sometimes has had to remind him of how good he really is.

"He was a unanimous pick for our most valuable player, and that's kind of rare," Ladouceur said. "He doesn't necessarily want to be in the limelight. This kid is scratching the surface on what he could do."

Drew, who weighs 195 pounds, said it's part of his personality and value system to offer credit and praise to others.

"I'd rather make a big block and see someone else score than me score," he said. "Every running back at our school will tell you that the line is the team. Without a line, you're not a back.

"I was just taught since I was little not to walk around with your chin all stuck up and act cocky because bad things happen, so I try to stay humble."

Much of his inspiration and motivation in football comes from his grandfather, Maurice Jones, who is his most loyal fan and supporter.

"He had a massive heart attack when I was 6," Drew said. "It took three of his heart valves away. He's been coming to all my practices. All my aunts, uncles and cousins say he's living because of me. I try to perform to the best of my ability so he can be proud."

In three years of varsity football, Drew never lost a game. He's part of a program that has won 138 consecutive games. All week, California players have been grilling him to learn the secrets of De La Salle's success.

Except it's no secret.

"Determination, hard work and dedication," Drew said. "We're out in the summer for nine hours working by ourselves just so we can be better than the next team. We'd run laps, we'd run gassers, we'd run wind sprints, we'd do something after we worked out just so we would get extra conditioning."

And Drew mentions one other requirement for playing at De La Salle.

"It's heart," he said. "You can't teach a person heart, but the coaches try to make your heart as big as possible. We're not the biggest team, we're not the most talented team, but we try to have the biggest hearts, and no one can stop a team with the biggest hearts."

There will be lots of future college stars in Saturday's 11 a.m. game.

Florida has running back Ernie Sims and receiver Antonio Cromartie, both among the top college prospects in the nation.

California has defensive linemen Lawrence Jackson of Inglewood, Kevin Brown of Long Beach Poly and Sedrick Ellis of Chino, all of whom are big, overpowering players.

But something tells me the smallest player on the field will end up among the best.

Eric Sondheimer can be reached at eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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