Turned Down by Big Schools, Gridder Hopes to Impress Scouts in Star Game

Times Staff Writer

Throughout his senior season at Muir High in Pasadena, linebacker Wes McGarrity remembers receiving recruiting letters from colleges.

But the 17-year-old McGarrity soon discovered that there was a big difference between colleges sending letters and being legitimately interested in him as a player.

"During the year, a lot of our players received a lot of letters from colleges, and I did too," he says. "But when the year ended, only one school was really interested."

That school was Iowa State, and McGarrity said the Cyclones were interested enough at first to take him to their campus in Ames last January.

Only McGarrity received the discouraging news in February that Iowa State was not going to offer him a football scholarship.

"They didn't make me an offer because they said I was too small for the position they were recruiting me for (inside linebacker)," he said. "Then they thought maybe I could play outside linebacker, but they said I was too slow.

"I kind of got the feeling when I was up there that they weren't going to offer me anything, anyway. So I was prepared for it and I just tried to have as much fun as I could when I was there."

With no other offers from NCAA Division I programs on the horizon, the 6-2 and 220-pound McGarrity eventually decided to play at two-year Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut in the fall in hopes of increasing his stock as a player.

However, McGarrity still has one last chance to impress Division I recruiters before he enters Mt. Sac.

That will come when he competes for the West in the ninth annual National Football Foundation Hall of Fame Game at 8 p.m. Friday at Arroyo High in El Monte. With college scouts in attendence, McGarrity is looking forward to it.

But, more than the opportunity to impress recruiters, McGarrity is happy to play in the game that will match 76 of the top graduated high school seniors in the San Gabriel Valley.

"I think it is a good opportunity, not so much to prove myself, but because all these players are so good," he said. "They're so much better than the players on your own (high school) team. It makes you feel good that you were picked for a game like this."

McGarrity is especially excited about playing in the game considering the way his high school career ended.

After starting as a junior for a Muir team that won 14 straight games and its second straight CIF Coastal Conference title, McGarrity had high hopes for his senior season. Things appeared promising for the Mustangs when they won eight of their first nine games last season.

That was before the Mustangs learned that they would have to forfeit the eight victories because they had used an ineligible player. They would not be returning to the CIF playoffs.

"It was devastating," McGarrity recalled. "It was the worst nightmare. Nobody thought that would happen. We were on such a roll. I know we would have gone a long way in the playoffs. But there was nothing we could do about it."

That was not the only disappointment McGarrity faced during his prep career at Muir.

He had to wait until the second game of his sophomore season for his scheduled varsity debut because he wasn't old enough (15) to play. But he suffered a pinched nerve in his lower back before the game and didn't play the rest of the season as Muir won the conference title.

"My career was cut short in some respects but it was still enjoyable," he said. "All things considered, I can't say it was too bad."

A two-year starter at Muir, McGarrity was an offensive guard as a junior and was a two-way starter at guard and linebacker as a senior. Despite the fact that it was his first season as a linebacker, he made the All-Pacific League team on defense, as well as offense.

But McGarrity admits that his inexperience at linebacker may have a lot to do with the lack of interest by Division I recruiters.

"Before my senior year, I didn't play defense," he said. "I'm probably still a better player at offensive guard. But that's because I've played it longer. I have the ability to play linebacker and I'm willing to learn. I just need to be molded."

In the meantime, McGarrity said he is making progress--particularly on foot speed.

"I have to bring my 40 (yard dash) time down," he said. "Colleges look at that very much, especially at my position. I'm at 4.8 seconds now and I'd like to bring it to 4.7."

That is considerably better than his clockings in the 40 earlier in the year. "During the recruiting period I was more like 5.0 or 4.9, but I have improved a lot since then."

McGarrity also said there is a chance that he will wind up growing a little. "I'm a bit of a late bloomer," he said. "I'm on a late-growth spurt. I think I could still grow an inch or so."

So while he would still like to earn a Division I scholarship, he realizes that he could benefit from playing at a junior college for the next season or two.

"I can do a lot of growing there as a player," he said. "I can become a better player and I can also work on my academics so I can ease into (a four-year college) better."

Regardless of how he plays Friday, McGarrity said he is not about to surrender his dream of playing big-time college football.

"I'm going to keep playing even if I don't get picked up," he said. "I won't get discouraged. I want to keep playing and my (Scholastic Aptitude Test) scores and grade-point average are fine. I just have to show the recruiters I can play."

It could be a match-up of size against speed when the East meets the West in the Hall of Fame game.

The East certainly has the size and the West has more than adequate speed.

Among the top interior linemen for the East are nose guard Denail Sparks of Claremont (6-4, 250), defensive tackle Kevin Szalonek (6-3, 240) from Bishop Amat and offensive guard Aron Gideon (6-2, 240) of Bishop Amat.

The West will counter with outstanding speed, especially in its defensive secondary that includes Paul Pitts and Al Robinson of Muir and Mingo Hosey and Ken Phillips of Pasadena. Pitts was a finalist in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles and Hosey won the triple jump at the CIF 4-A Division track finals in June.

The West, coached by Eagle Rock's Dennis Shaw, also will be led by linebackers Chad Brown of Muir and Brian Wright of Pasadena and running backs Jon Lee of Pasadena and Mike Mooney of Temple City.

The East will be coached by Bishop Amat's Mark Paredes, who will have the services of two of his own standouts: running back Mazio Royster and defensive back Stephon Pace. Both will play at USC next season.

Among other players for the East are quarterback Bill Gallis, who led Northview to the CIF Eastern Conference title last season, defensive back Robert Compton of Wilson and defensive end Angel Chavez of Northview.

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