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ERIC SONDHEIMER / ON HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Westlake's Nelson Spruce finds ways to make the plays

The versatile junior receiver has deceptive speed and great instincts. He has caught seven touchdown passes this season and is always doing things to counter the defender when the ball is in motion.

September 28, 2009|ERIC SONDHEIMER | ON HIGH SCHOOLS

Call it a kinetic anomaly. That's what happens when receiver Nelson Spruce of Westlake Village Westlake decides to twist, turn or contort his body, then somehow make a catch while defying gravity.

He's always doing something to counter the defender when the ball is in motion, whether that means slowing up, speeding up or changing directions.

"It's an ability to adjust to the football without the defensive back having an opportunity to make a play," Coach Jim Benkert said. "As he's running the rout, the defensive back doesn't see the ball but he does, and he has the ability to adjust his speed and use his hands to allow him to catch it and the defensive back to have no chance."

Seven times this season, Spruce has caught a touchdown pass. He's also the starting free safety for a team that's 3-0 and loaded with promising sophomores and juniors. Last week against Newhall Hart, he made a one-handed touchdown catch. He also returned a punt 58 yards.

"Man, he is awesome," Hart Coach Mike Herrington said. "He's big and fast. Shoot, we had nobody to match up with him."

Spruce is one of the best athletes at Westlake, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound junior with a 3.8 grade-point average who's also a standout third baseman for the baseball team.

Spruce's versatility is what makes him so valuable. He gave a sneak preview of the type of player he might become during seven-on-seven summer passing tournaments, never coming off the field while contributing seemingly everywhere. Not much has changed with pads on.

He has deceptive speed, great instincts and a body that figures to get bigger, stronger and tougher with age. And his father, Neal, a fitness and nutrition expert, has him drinking protein shakes and eating nutritious meals to prepare him for all-out energy on Friday nights.

Of course, by the end of each week, Spruce is exhausted from classes, football and homework, and that's despite going to sleep by 9:30 p.m. during the week. Trying to get him up before 11 a.m. on Sunday is futile.

"I turn my phone off," he said.

He deserves to rest with all the stuff he's doing, and the junior quarterbacks at Westlake, Nick Isham and Michael Bercovici, certainly appreciate his presence.

His receiving philosophy is simple: "Find the ball when it's thrown and do whatever I can to make a play."

That's what he did with his one-handed catch against Hart.

"He just reached out and tipped it back to himself," Herrington said.

Crenshaw statement

OK, all you City Section detractors. Los Angeles Crenshaw took up the challenge, scheduling five Southern Section opponents for nonleague games, and look what the Cougars have done.

Down went Lakewood, Norco, Fontana Miller and Riverside North. Next up is a Friday game against unbeaten Culver City (3-0).

If the Cougars improve to 5-0, there better not be one peep about City Section inferiority.

White, the play caller

If USC Coach Pete Carroll ever needs someone to call plays, he might check out Huntington Beach Edison Coach Dave White. A big reason the Chargers (4-0) knocked off Anaheim Servite last week was White's play calling. He had everyone off balance, from Servite defenders to sportswriters, calling passes when he should be running and calling runs when he should be passing.

He was absolutely fearless, and that kind of confidence has to rub off on his players.

Turnaround stories

Hueneme, 0-10 last season, is 4-0. Oxnard Channel Islands, 0-10 two seasons ago and 3-7 last season, is 4-0.

Woodland Hills El Camino Real, once a City Section Division I power, is 3-0 and making progress as a Division II title threat.

And how about Sun Valley Poly (2-1) having a better record than Long Beach Poly (1-3). The Parrots' Kevin Ervin, a junior running back, set a school record last week with 409 yards rushing in 20 carries while scoring six touchdowns in a 58-27 victory over Granada Hills.

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eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latsondheimer

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