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Out of the Shadows

Jimmy Clausen gets a lot of attention, but Aaron Corp and a number of other talented quarterbacks have bright futures as well.

September 01, 2006|Martin Henderson | Times Staff Writer

Split-second decision-making skills, proven leadership ability and a knack for making opposing defenses look foolish, whether they're trying to tackle him or defend against his pinpoint passes.

He might be the best high school quarterback in Southern California.

And he is not Jimmy Clausen.

He is Aaron Corp, and he's going to USC, where he hopes to follow in the footsteps of Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.

In many ways, Orange Lutheran's Corp is the polar opposite of Clausen, USC's first choice who instead picked Notre Dame. Corp never gave a thought to holding a news conference to announce his college choice. He is a threat to beat opponents with his running ability, not just his arm. He has succeeded in pressure situations against some of the best competition in the Southland.

And, clearly, he doesn't seek the spotlight.

"I don't really enjoy it, I don't think," Corp said. "Sometimes I feel I don't deserve it. It's not something that I crave."

It may not be something he can avoid much longer.

"People are really going to know about him after this year," said Dave White, coach at Huntington Beach Edison. "He's going to play in a tougher league. Hopefully, he stays healthy, because if he does, he's going to have a great year."

Clausen is a five-star prospect who seemingly has all the tools. But if the hype surrounding the Westlake Village Oaks Christian quarterback didn't dominate the landscape, then, perhaps, fellow senior quarterbacks Corp, Samson Szakacsy of Camarillo, Ronnie Fouch of Redlands East Valley and Chasen Stangel of San Jacinto would be better known.

Instead, they come into this season highly regarded in their own circles, but largely unnoticed in the big picture.

Last year, Szakacsy completed 73.4% of his passes and threw for 23 touchdowns. He is also going to USC. Fouch threw for 34 touchdowns with only four interceptions. He has committed to Washington. Stangel had 19 touchdowns with only five interceptions, and will play for Texas El Paso. But Corp stands as the most intriguing. Polite, spiritual, gangly.

"You'd think he'd break in half, but he doesn't," said Bob Johnson, the Mission Viejo coach who also heads the EA Sports Elite 11 quarterback camp. "He's a really tough kid."

So tough that he runs the Lancers' option offense. So tough that, three times last season against top-25 opponents -- Santa Ana Mater Dei, Santa Margarita and Los Angeles Crenshaw -- Corp led his team to second-half, come-from-behind victories and had touchdown runs of at least 55 yards. So tough that he did all this at 6 feet 4 inches and only 177 pounds, though listed at 190.

"In a couple years, his arm will get stronger.... ," Johnson said. "In college, he'll put on a bigger frame. His upside is real good."

Today, Corp really is 190 pounds. He has an accurate arm to about 55 yards. At the four-day Elite 11 camp, where he was the only Californian, he established himself as the most accurate passer of the group.

Cal-Hi Sports rated him among the top three in camp in understanding the game and having the ability to read coverages.

"When he's not throwing, he is a true runner and decision-maker in the run game," Orange Lutheran Coach Jim Kunau said. "We put the ball in the hands of the quarterback every single play to make a play."One of the things [California Coach] Jeff Tedford told me he liked about Aaron was that he had real pocket courage, to stand under fire and not be fazed by pressure. Under pressure, he's good."

Pete Carroll and his staff at USC knew Corp could run. The first Monday after Clausen announced at a news conference that he was attending Notre Dame, Carroll was on the Orange Lutheran campus to watch Corp throw.

Corp accepted a scholarship offer by week's end.

"Once I get the opportunity to play, I want to prove to the rest of the nation that USC has the best quarterback," said Corp, who threw for 1,634 yards and 22 touchdowns last season and rushed for 591 and eight touchdowns.

"I imagine Jimmy Clausen will play at Notre Dame, and I will be competing with him with regards to a Heisman Trophy or a national championship."

But that, he knows, is down the road. His football team, with a school enrollment of only 1,150, has been placed in the new Trinity League, alongside perennial powers Mater Dei, Santa Margarita, Bellflower St. John Bosco and Anaheim Servite.

There will be plenty of pressure. Though 22-3 the last two years, the Lancers (9-2) last season suffered a stinging first-round Division VI playoff loss to Tustin.

"It still sticks in my side, and I think it does with the whole team," Corp said. "To not do well in the playoffs, that's not going to be acceptable, because we know we can do better."

As a sophomore, Corp was thrust into the lineup two weeks before the opener against Mater Dei, and was pulled in the second quarter. But Orange Lutheran didn't lose another game. It scored its first 28 points by halftime to beat Newport Harbor, 35-7, in the Division VI championship; Corp rushed for 126 yards and passed for 117.

Where he stands in the Clausen-Corp debate is tough to judge. He may not be better than Clausen....

"It's not Clausen's fault that they haven't played tough teams," Edison's White said. "He's big, strong, has a great supporting cast. He's not going to struggle.

"But Aaron Corp has proved it."

martin.henderson@latimes.com

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How they rate

A look at the top five players at each position:

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