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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Rooney believes in this change

October 20, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

There are longtime observers of Sherman Oaks Notre Dame's football program who wonder whether Coach Kevin Rooney was abducted by aliens, transported to another planet and returned with a whole new outlook on football.

How else to explain the transformation of the unbeaten Knights (6-0) from a run-first, quarterback-option team to a no-huddle, 100% shotgun-offense team that has been unstoppable at times.

"Who said you can't teach an old dog new tricks," long-time assistant coach Jeff Kraemer said of Rooney, in his 29th season with the Knights.

Rooney changed his offensive philosophy because he realized his personnel dictated he do so. With lots of talent at the quarterback and receiver positions, Notre Dame has prospered with its passing attack.

In the last three games, junior quarterback Ryan Kasdorf has passed for 377 yards and four touchdowns against Saugus, 409 yards and four touchdowns against Anaheim Servite and 338 yards and two touchdowns against Mission Hills Alemany.

Kasdorf is completing 67% of his passes and has thrown for 1,906 yards and 19 touchdowns with three interceptions. And his three main receivers -- seniors Chris McNeill, James Flynn and Tyler Ruiz -- are averaging 26, 25 and 22 yards per reception.

"They're as good as I've seen as a group at the high school level," Alemany Coach Dean Herrington said of Notre Dame's receivers. "They run, they catch and they're physical."

Rooney, however, deserves praise for continuing to look for ways to improve his program while not being afraid to embrace change. He has won four Southern Section titles and undergone a dramatic change in thinking since his run-first days of the 1980s.

"In the end, the reason you evolve is because you have talent in certain areas, and the last few years, we've had pretty good quarterbacks and receivers, and we've gotten better at throwing the ball," he said.

Rooney studied Oregon's spread offense and put in formations that allow his quarterback to run the option play but out of a shotgun formation. And he has found that his team can still run the ball.

As for Kasdorf, who replaced Dayne Crist, a freshman at Notre Dame, Rooney said, "He's just a really good competitor who makes things happen with his arm and legs."

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It's going to be a tough call come playoff time when the Southern Section office must decide which school gets the single at-large berth in the Pac-5 Division.

Will it go to the fourth-place team from the Trinity League? Will it go to the third-place team from the Serra League?

"There's some good teams who won't make the playoffs," Huntington Beach Edison Coach Dave White said.

As it stands, Serra League teams Notre Dame, Encino Crespi (5-1), La Puente Bishop Amat (5-1) and Los Angeles Loyola (4-2) are a combined 20-4. When league play begins in another week, it could be a demolition derby, with every game unpredictable.

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Three of the best long snappers are based in Southern California and figure to get college scholarships this season. Evan Jacobsen of San Clemente is considered No. 1. J.R. Carr of South Torrance and Tyler Bills of Mission Viejo are drawing strong interest too. All they do is snap the ball on punts, fields goals and extra points, and college programs have learned it's a key position deserving of a scholarship.

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Put down Harbor City Narbonne (5-1) as the favorite to win the City Section Championship Division title. USC-bound Byron Moore had two interceptions and caught five passes for 122 yards and one touchdown in a 35-7 Marine League victory over Wilmington Banning last week.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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ON THE WEB

Run 'n' gun: View a video by Eric Sondheimer on Notre Dame's new offensive philosophy at latimes.com/highschool.

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