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Prep Friday : Kicking Off the Season With Style : Canadian Team Faces a World of Difference Playing Sunny Hills

Times Staff Writer

Nothing looks different at first. The football team on the Sunny Hills High School practice field limbers up with your standard exercises.

Stretch left, stretch right, sit-ups, push-ups--the whole routine.

Things start to look different as soon as practice turns to specifics. Little things. Like kicking off.

“Let’s go, kickoff team,” assistant coach Tom Elniski hollered. “You kick from the 35 (yard line).”

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The 35? Who are these guys? High school teams kick off from the 40. Every football coach knows that.

Every coach in the United States, anyway.

And that’s the hitch. LaZerte High School is not in the United States, but in the city of Edmonton, the province of Alberta, the country of Canada.

Tonight at 7 at Buena Park High School, Sunny Hills plays the Voyageurs in what both schools bill as Orange County’s first international high school football game.

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Setting up the game hasn’t been without difficulties--mainly with rules--but the experience seems to be a success for both schools, even before kickoff . . . which will be from the 40.

“The interaction between the kids at school has been very worthwhile already,” Sunny Hills principal Gary Mieger said. “The kids have had a chance to see another culture, which is always beneficial.”

In 1986, Sunny Hills Athletic Director Ralph Trigsted approached travel agent John Donovan with the idea of playing a team from another country.

Donovan called a fishing buddy in Edmonton, who also is a travel agent. He, in turn, contacted Bo Jereniuk, LaZerte’s coach. Jereniuk then talked things over with Trigsted and Sunny Hills Coach Tim Devaney.

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“It was almost as easy as making a few telephone calls,” Donovan said. “Everyone just hit it off right from the start.”

Devaney originally wanted to play a game in Edmonton in 1987. The Lancers played a game in Hawaii in 1985 and Devaney thought it might be time to take another trip.

“We got so many positive things from the 1985 game,” Devaney said. “Not just in regards to football. There were probably 10 kids that made that trip that will probably never get a chance to see Hawaii again. That alone made it worth it.”

Although Sunny Hills’ trip to Canada was canceled, LaZerte agreed to come to Fullerton for a game this season.

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Jereniuk, whose team was 6-1 during the regular season in 1987, visited Sunny Hills last winter to work out details. Devaney and Trigsted even went to Edmonton during the summer to complete the plans.

LaZerte’s team arrived Tuesday and began practicing at Sunny Hills. The Voyageurs have taken in tourist sights such as Disneyland and Sea World. And they will attend classes with the Sunny Hills players today.

“It’s been like a vacation for us,” said Jereniuk, whose team opens its season tonight. “But I imagine our intensity level will not be the highest for the game.”

LaZerte is not without talent. Its offensive line, led by tackles Jason Smith (6-5, 260) and Brian Underwood (6-5, 260), averages 235 pounds.

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The defense features linebackers Rick Dorn and Craig Nowell. Dorn was runner-up as the league’s most valuable player last season.

“When you get down to it, there is not much difference,” Trigsted said. “The kids are the same as ours and their coaches act like our coaches.”

What’s different? Rules.

There have been several compromises, mainly just minor details. Both flags will be displayed and both national anthems will be played. Joan Wisner, the Canadian consul in Los Angeles, will preside over the coin flip.

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However, the Southern Section--which has strict guidelines on games with an opponent from out of state, let alone from another country--made one thing perfectly clear in approving the game: American rules must apply.

Teams from British Columbia play with the same rules as teams in the United States, but the rest of Canada has its own version. Besides the kickoff (Canadian teams kick off from the 45-yard line), LaZerte’s players are trying to make several adjustments.

The field is 110 yards long and 65 yards wide in Canada, compared with 100 yards by 50 in the United States. The end zones in Canada are 25 yards deep, 15 yards deeper than in the U.S.

Canadian teams have 12 players on the field, can have multiple men in motion and get just three downs. Try that in the United States and you get two penalties, not to mention cheating yourself out of an extra down.

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Jereniuk is unconcerned.

“We see National Football Leagues on television all the time, so our kids probably know more about the American rules than Sunny Hills does about Canadian rules,” Jereniuk said. “The only thing that will give us problems is the motion rule. But heck, we got another down to play with now.”

Both coaches say winning is secondary, that the experience comes first. But the game will be competitive.

“Everybody is making new friends,” said Devaney, whose team is 0-1 this season. “But once the game starts, all friendships are off until it’s over.”

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Said Jereniuk: “If we win, we get to take Gretzky back to Edmonton with us.”


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