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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Valencia High football's secret weapon: Steven Manfro

Manfro, whose family moved to Castaic from New York after 9/11, made his varsity debut on the eighth anniversary of the attack. He played a key role in the team's 39-36 win over Thousand Oaks.

September 18, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

On the eighth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Steven Manfro of Valencia did his best to make a statement that life must go on.

He's 16 now and living far away from New York, where he was in 2001.

"I was in school," he recalled. "It was pretty traumatic, and the fact it almost killed my father made it worse."

His father, Marc, was a New York police officer who became ill in the aftermath of the attacks. The family moved months later to Castaic to start a new life.

Last Friday night, with his father watching, Manfro made his varsity football debut, rushing for 194 yards and two touchdowns in 19 carries and catching seven passes for 115 yards and one touchdown in a 39-36 victory over Thousand Oaks.

Afterward, Manfro got a hug. "My dad was very proud," he said.

There are lots of people who don't know Manfro's story or how good a football player he is because Coach Larry Muir has been hiding him all summer waiting to unveil his "secret weapon."

"I told you," Muir said.

The 5-foot-10, 176-pound junior with lots of power and speed played junior varsity last season, scoring 37 touchdowns. It was a family decision to let him mature on JV.

Muir has waited patiently to test him on varsity.

"Manfro is the real deal," he said. "He runs hard, he's a great cutter and he makes people miss. But he can run through tacklers."

Equally impressive is Manfro's humble attitude. He sent me a text message, "Without them, I would be nothing," referring to his offensive line and mentioning each one of the players' names.

The night before his varsity debut, Manfro could hardly sleep.

"It was my first varsity game, so I had to give it my all," he said. "I was very anxious to play on varsity."

His most memorable moment was his first touchdown.

"It was a pitch to the right side, and I went down the sideline and scored," he said.

On Monday, students who did not know who he was or what position he played suddenly knew him.

"I guess I'm not a secret anymore," he said.

On Thursday night, Manfro rushed for 182 yards in 13 carries and scored one touchdown while playing only in the first half of Valencia's 56-31 victory over Lake Balboa Birmingham.

In truth, he never was a secret weapon.

"I've been playing for 12 years, and it hasn't been a fluke," he said. "I've always done good."

Listening to him talk about the instinctive qualities of a good running back provides clues to what he's capable of doing.

"It just clicks into my head," he said. "I see where to go and my feet take me there."

Transfer reaction

There were lots of e-mails from a variety of people on Tuesday's topic, "Transfers are ruining basketball."

One coach said thanks from "a coaching staff that tries to do it right."

One principal suggested creating a statewide list of coaches who have been fired for inappropriate conduct to help administrators in the hiring process.

One e-mail came from a father of a sophomore-to-be at a private school.

He said his son told him this week, "Dad, during games, sit far away from everyone in the corner. Maybe wear sunglasses. That way no one can come over and try to promote you to do illegal things with me."

If that's an example of the pressure being felt by high school basketball players these days, then the powers that be need to act immediately.

Rise of West Adams

Los Angeles West Adams Prep opened in the fall of 2007, and last week it came up with its biggest sports victory, a 19-14 football win over Wilmington Banning.

"We're trying to make some noise," Coach Brad Ratcliff said.

West Adams plays Carson on Oct. 2, and it shows that in less than three seasons, Ratcliff has put together a program not afraid to take on the City Section's perennial powers.

--

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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