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Draw on the Line

Compton Dominguez depends on its bevy of big players to bowl over defenders; it's not flashy, but it's effective

September 19, 2003|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

At first, Willie Donerson had doubts.

Donerson decided during the summer that the Compton Dominguez football team would run the double-wing offense this year. During practices, he often stood off to the side of the field rubbing his white beard and wondering whether he had made the right decision.

"Watching this offense is like watching the grass grow," he said.

Donerson, in his 20th season as coach at Dominguez, is used to offense with a little more pizazz. Quarterbacks Jason Thomas, Justin Wyatt and Anthony Wheat have dazzled Dominguez fans with an array of athleticism since Thomas led the Dons to a Southern Section Division II title in 1996.

This year was different. Dominguez didn't have a superstar athlete to play quarterback, but it did have a bevy of big linemen, so Donerson moved those linemen close together and told them to bowl over defenders and open holes.

There are no deep passing routes or shotgun formations in the Dominguez offense; it's smash-mouth, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football.

Early season results indicate it was the right move.

Dominguez rushed for 275 yards and rolled past Tustin, 39-12, on Thursday night at Tustin High. Running back Dion Bell had 138 yards and two touchdowns in 14 carries.

And quarterback Terry Mixon added 44 yards and a touchdown in seven carries. He threw scoring passes of three and 26 yards, both to Darryl Crummie.

"I'm happy as long as the team is doing good," Mixon said. "I'm not a selfish player."

But he is, after all, a standout one. On defense, Mixon had two fumble recoveries and an interception as Dominguez (2-0) held Tustin (0-2) to 250 yards.

"That is a talented football team," Tustin Coach Myron Miller said. "They have a humongous offensive line, and if you add in skill guys who can run like those guys, this offense is very difficult to stop."

Miller should know. He has been running the same offense since he was an assistant to Don Markham, the godfather of the double wing, at Ramona High in the mid-1980s.

Dominguez coaches consulted Miller about the offense after playing Tustin in Week 2 last season. Three weeks later, Wheat tore a ligament in his knee and was lost for the season. Without a viable option as a backup, Donerson switched to the run-based offense.

With USC-bound Chilo Rachal anchoring an offensive line that includes fellow 300-pounders Brandon Andrews, Waunel Love, Kenneth Leichmen and Ryan Whitehurst, the decision was easier.

"In the past, we didn't have the linemen, so we ran an offense based around our skill guys," said Keith Donerson, Willie's son and the Dons' offensive coordinator. "We've always had speed, but we've never been this big in the line."

At first, the players were skeptical. The offense has five basic running plays and two passing plays. There are variations, but practices consisted of running the same base plays time and again.

But after Dominguez ran for 411 yards against Anaheim Esperanza in a 26-14 Week 1 victory, the team was convinced. Mixon gained 123 yards in 11 carries, Bell had 112 yards in 11 carries and Crummie had 100 yards in 21 carries.

"We believe in our coach," Rachal said. "It's not just an offense that does the same thing over and over and over.

"Our coaches think that with the line we've got, we can abuse defenses and wear them down, and when we do it his way, it works. When we do things our way, it doesn't work."

Miller, Tustin's coach, was happy to oblige when Donerson asked for his help last year. But when he saw that three players had rushed for more than 100 yards against Esperanza, he realized he might have helped create a monster.

"Esperanza is one of the elite teams in Orange County," Miller said. "I saw that, and I figured we were going to be in for a long night."

Perhaps most impressive is that Dominguez has run like it has in its first two games without Rachal, its best lineman. He broke his foot in preseason practice and is expected to miss three more weeks.

Also, Dominguez fumbled seven times against Esperanza -- losing five of them.

"The kids understand that there is still a lot of work to be done," Keith Donerson said. "There is a lot of ball handling in this offense, and they know that we need to work on eliminating the mistakes."

It's going to take more than a few nonleague victories to impress spoiled Dominguez fans, however. Even league championships don't quite cut anymore.

Dominguez has won four of the last six San Gabriel Valley League titles, but the Dons haven't won a section championship since 1996.

"The fans want to see a section championship," Donerson said. "They are demanding around here. You never know what will happen, but this team is certainly capable of doing some special things."

When Dominguez didn't enter any summer passing competitions, many figured it was a sign that the Dons were going to have a down year. Not so. The Donersons chose to drill the team on its new running offense instead.

"Everyone thought we would be mediocre this year, because they didn't see us over the summer," Willie Donerson said.

"But we were here working, working, working. Now the kids are comfortable with this offense. They know what to do."

And Donerson has learned to enjoy a new favorite pastime.

"I kind of like watching that grass grow," he said.

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