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Sacks Appeal

Los Altos' Harwell takes aim at quarterbacks, and Cody's record

September 05, 2003|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Greg Gano watches his star defensive end, Brigham Harwell, and drops a hint of things to come.

"He's really getting strong," said Gano, the Hacienda Heights Los Altos coach. "We expect a big year out of him."

What exactly is a big year for a player who last season had 25 sacks?

"I think 30 is a nice goal for him," Gano said. "It's a high, but realistic goal for him."

That should make opposing quarterbacks and offensive coordinators nervous.

"Sacking the quarterback is my love, and I plan on doing that every down," said Harwell, who had 22 sacks as a sophomore. "[A sack] changes the game. When I'm in that three-point stance, I'm looking to sack the QB, whether it's a run or a pass.

"I get the sack, I do a little dance, I get the crowd going wild. I love it. The fans drive me. I feel like I'm an entertainer."

Harwell's defensive play can certainly be entertaining -- as well as valuable.

"He's the kid on defense who's going to make the big plays for us," Gano said. "He's going to be the momentum guy, make the big sack or the big hit. The other players will feed off him. We have eight or nine kids who have played three years for us, but he's the guy who gets excited, gets motivated and pumps everybody up."

Harwell is reminiscent of defensive end Shaun Cody, regarded as the best player ever at Los Altos. Cody was 6-4, 250, was named USA Today national defensive player of the year after the 2000 season and now starts for USC.

"We were fortunate enough to have probably the best high school player in the country in Shaun Cody," said John Howing, Los Altos' defensive line coach. "Brigham's not at that level, but he's pretty close."

How close?

Harwell is 6-2, 250, but instead of relying on power, he uses quickness to get the same results as Cody, who had 33 sacks as a junior, 28 as a senior and finished with a school-record 69 in his career.

Harwell has 47 sacks the last two years, and has Cody's career record within reach.

"My freshman year, Shaun told me I would never break his record and I just laughed," Harwell said. "That day we were talking in the office. He told me to work out, and I told him I don't have to work out. He said, 'No wonder you're not going to break my record.' My freshman year, I wasn't into lifting weights."

It eventually dawned on him that extra muscle could prove helpful.

"I realize that power isn't everything," Harwell said, "but it really helps to be strong."

The comparisons with Cody are impossible to ignore, simply because Harwell assumed the mantle of leadership and domination -- and played the same position.

"Honestly, Shaun Cody was a great player, I just feel I'm Brigham Harwell and I'm different from him," said Harwell, who has committed to UCLA. "His style was power and strength, my style is quickness, inside-outside, all speed."

As difficult as it has been to contain Harwell, he might be even tougher this season. Like Cody, Harwell lined up in the same spot on every play in previous years. This season, Gano said, "we're going to move him around a little bit so people don't know where he's at all the time."

That should help Harwell get to the quarterback, and that should help Los Altos as it tries to defend its Southern Section Division VI championship. This year's team could be even better than the one that went 12-2 and won its second consecutive section title last season.

Gano believes the offense will score more points, and an already very good defense "will be better" because seven starters return, including three linebackers and safeties Randall Brown and Daniel Drayton. Harwell, Brown, Drayton and new defensive back Tao Alo, a transfer from Compton Dominguez, are the best athletes on the team.

And if opposing quarterbacks have trouble finding open receivers, they may also have trouble escaping Harwell. The bottom line: Cody's record could be in danger.

"We're rushing the passer every down," Howing said. "When you get someone like Brigham, who is so explosive off the ball and has a great nose for the ball, you can't help but excel."


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