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Eric Sondheimer ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Jones shows multiple talents

September 13, 2008|Eric Sondheimer

For 19 years and 278 games, Clay Matthews played linebacker in the NFL. Four times he made the Pro Bowl for the Cleveland Browns. If anyone knows what qualities are needed to succeed at the position, it's Matthews.

He has two sons playing linebacker for USC and Oregon. And every Friday night, as the defensive coordinator at Westlake Village Oaks Christian, Matthews sends out junior Malcolm Jones and wonders if he'll be his next top linebacker.

"He's not ready for the NFL," Matthews said. "That's what I tell all my kids."

But Jones displayed a glimpse of his talent Friday against Pasadena Muir during a 10-minute span of the second quarter, returning a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown, scoring on an eight-yard run and returning an interception 41 yards for another touchdown in the Lions' 43-14 victory.

"He's really starting to assert himself," Matthews said. "He's always been talented. He wasn't quite playing with the passion of his talent. He's starting to dominate. You have to have a little edge, and I'm starting to see that."

Oaks Christian (2-0), ranked No. 10 by The Times and facing perhaps its toughest regular-season opponent, looked uninspired for much of the first half and was bothered by Muir's quickness and athleticism on defense.

Muir (1-1) pulled to within 10-8 with 1:53 left in the second quarter on a two-yard touchdown run by Josh Jones and a two-point conversion run by Chris Dunlap. That got the Lions' attention.

"We realized we had to step it up and make plays," Jones said.

Jones, who rushed for 2,025 yards and scored 25 touchdowns last season, broke off a 37-yard run on Oaks Christian's next possession before scoring his TD.

Then he made an interception of a Reuben Thomas pass and sprinted into the end zone with 36 seconds left to give the Lions a 24-8 halftime lead.

Jones is part of Oaks Christian's gifted junior class, which includes at least six players who should receive NCAA Division I scholarships. But like former Oaks Christian standout Marc Tyler, now a running back at USC, the question will be what position Jones should play.

"I like linebacker, but I like running the ball more," he said.

There's another Oaks Christian linebacker who was doing lots of hitting, junior Zac Stout. And freshman Jordan Payton returned an interception for a touchdown.

Oaks Christian's defense won this game. Junior quarterback Nick Montana threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Brian Owusu in the third quarter, but Montana struggled in the first half, completing five of 15 attempts for 48 yards.

Those who criticize Oaks Christian for its supposedly weak schedule need to ease up. There was nothing weak about Muir (1-1), which has lots of players who run fast and hit hard. The Mustangs aren't ready to compete with Long Beach Poly or Santa Ana Mater Dei, but they will win the Pacific League championship.

As far as Oaks Christian, Coach Bill Redell isn't selling his team as the best in Southern California. He knows it couldn't stand up to playing top teams week after week.

"I don't think we have the number of players to play them on a consistent basis," he said.

Redell's challenge is putting together a schedule that is tough enough to give the Lions a chance at playing in a state CIF championship bowl game in December.

This season, the schedule edge is with rival Ventura St. Bonaventure, which plays Long Beach Poly and Encino Crespi. If St. Bonaventure becomes bowl-eligible and stays close against Poly and Crespi, the Seraphs will get the nod.

But it's a long season, and with players the caliber of Jones, don't count out the Lions.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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