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Erk: A Real Heavy Hitter on Mission Viejo’s Defense

Times Staff Writer

While the majority of the players on Mission Viejo High School’s football team have tried to forget last season’s 28-0 loss to rival Capistrano Valley, cornerback Dennis Erk has a difficult time trying to remember it.

Erk suffered a mild concussion midway through the second quarter in the lopsided loss, and he spent the remainder of the night in a haze. Tonight, he’ll get an opportunity to get reacquainted with the Cougars when Mission Viejo meets Capistrano Valley in a South Coast League showdown.

Erk, a 5-foot 10-inch, 160-pound senior, made a tackle and was hit in the back of the head by a rival player, suffering a concussion the last time the teams played. He was helped off the field but didn’t tell anyone that he was hurt.

When Erk returned, Capistrano Valley quarterback Nathan Call threw a long touchdown pass to the receiver Erk was supposed to be defending.

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“I lined up with the wrong foot and turned the wrong way on the play,” Erk said. “I got burned. Right away, the coaches knew something was wrong.”

Bill Crow, Mission Viejo coach, saw no indication that anything wrong with Erk, until it was too late.

“We didn’t realize Dennis was hurt until the touchdown play,” Crow said. “With most kids, you know when they’re hurt. But Dennis is such a tough kid, he didn’t say anything. That’s the kind of player he is . . . tough.”

A tough player at Mission Viejo wears an unlikely sticker on his helmet that is known as “The Dead Cockroach Award.” The award was introduced by Crow this year for a player who makes an exceptional tackle, hit or block.

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The object is to hit an opponent so hard that he is sent sprawling on his back. Erk has earned three stickers.

the award. The team sent one to (William) “Dennis could probably win one every game,” Crow said. “He’s a very, very intense individual. Everything he does, whether it’s playing football or taking a classroom test, he does with intensity.

“On the practice field, we have to stop play sometimes and tell Dennis, ‘Take it easy. These are your own teammates.’ He enjoys the physical part of football.”

Erk, the team’s fastest player, combines his 4.69 speed with a fierce sense of competitiveness. He usually defends the best receiver on opposing teams and has two interceptions. He also serves as the team’s kickoff and punt returner and has scored twice on kickoff returns.

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“We haven’t played many teams who throw much,” Erk said. “Our secondary is going to be tested against Capistrano Valley.”

Capistrano Valley’s heralded passing attack presents the biggest challenge to the undefeated Diablos. The Cougars’ quarterback, Scott Stark, is averaging 278 yards passing per game. Call has moved to wide receiver, where he has 45 receptions for 569 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I hope I go man-to-man against Nathan Call,” Erk said. “He’s got the name, and he’s a tough receiver. I’m looking for some hits.”

The Diablos’ designated hitter did not play organized football until he entered Mission Viejo as a freshman. Erk’s only football experience as a youth came in the Erks’ backyard.

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Erk: “I have three older brothers and everybody who lived on our block used to come over after it rained and played in our backyard. We called the games, ‘The Mud Bowl.’ My parents used to watch it rain and say, ‘There goes the backyard.’ ”

Erk was an instant success in football. He was a running back on a league championship freshman team and then started at cornerback and returned punts for a sophomore team that was 10-0.

He started returning kickoffs last season and has developed into one of the county’s best special teams’ players. Erk credited his teammates for his success as a kickoff returner.

“I had a good wall that opened some big holes on both of my touchdowns,” Erk said. “It was like a dream on my first return. There was also a great feeling of teamwork. The hole was so big, anyone could have scored.”

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Erk was being modest. He is an exceptional athlete who also plays basketball and volleyball at Mission Viejo. He is projected as the sixth-man for the basketball team where he will play point guard. He’s been a three-year varsity starter in volleyball as a middle-blocker.

“If I don’t get any football offers, I think I can get a volleyball scholarship,” Erk said. “I plan on playing for a club (volleyball) team this year and then see if I get any offers.

“Football is my favorite sport because I love to hit, but I like the competition and the reaction of the crowd in a good volleyball match.”

The biggest criticism of Erk’s play on the football field is that he plays too far off a receiver. While most defensive backs playing six yards off a receiver, Erk lays back 10 yards and quarterbacks will sometimes throw under his coverage for short gains.

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“That’s something we’ve worked on with Dennis all year,” Crow said. “We keep telling him he’s a lot faster than most of the guys he’s defending. He’s not going to get burned. Dennis is exceptionally quick, and it’s shocking down here to have a kid that quick.

“Along with Jeff Holmes, I would say that Dennis is the quickest player I’ve ever coached. He’s certainly one of the toughest. When you watch a game film of Mission Viejo, Dennis stands out because he’s knocking people’s heads off.”


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