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PREP FOOTBALL : ONE-MAN BAND : Mission Viejo’s Ekdahl Can Do Almost Anything . . . Except Play Out of Position

Times Staff Writer

You’re Eric Ekdahl of Mission Viejo High School. OK, take a deep breath.

Now run the ball, catch it, throw the occasional pass, block guys weighing sometimes 100 pounds more than you. Isn’t this fun?

When people ask what position you play, you tell them, “I really don’t know.” When people ask you what a can’t-miss baseball prospect is doing playing varsity football, you tell them, “Well, the coaches kind of lied to me.”

But enough about that, back to the game. Run, catch, pass, block--Anybody need their shoelaces retied?--oh, there you’ve gone and scored another touchdown. Great, now kick the extra point. Good. Now kick off. Good. Oh, it’s a passing situation for the other team, time for you to take your place in the defensive backfield.

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Isn’t this fun?

Little did you know that when you told the coaches at Mission Viejo, “I’ll play anywhere,” that they’d take take you literally.

Eric Ekdahl is listed at 5-feet 9-inches, 175-pounds, though he’s quick to admit he’s an inch shorter and 10 pounds lighter.

He has scored 84 points in 5 games and leads Orange County in scoring by a significant margin--Fullerton running back Steve DePhillips is second with 66.

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How much does he mean to Mission Viejo, the county’s No. 1 team? Well, Ekdahl is averaging 16.8 points a game; the whole Mission Viejo team is averaging 30.

If Ekdahl--a running back/receiver or receiver/running back--isn’t the busiest player in the county, he certainly is the most productive. He has scored on short passes, long passes, runs, field goals and thrown 1 touchdown pass. He has made 16 of 17 conversion kicks and has caught a 2-point conversion pass.

When Mission Viejo played then top-rated and undefeated Fountain Valley 3 weeks ago, a game that Mission Viejo won, 24-3, Ekdahl was involved in all 24 points--touchdown receptions of 5 and 9 yards, a 47-yard field goal, a 4-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Troy Kopp and 3 point-after-touchdown kicks.

“You know, it’s not like our offense is devised just to let Eric score a lot of points,” said Ron Drake, Mission Viejo offensive coordinator. “But he’ll turn a short pass into a long touchdown. Sometimes he just refuses to go down, or finds a way out of situation where there looks like there’s no way out.”

Ekdahl, a senior, has caught 20 passes this season for 483 yards, an impressive 24.5 yards per catch.

“I’m convinced he can do anything on a football field,” Drake said.

In fact, Drake was so convinced of that 3 years ago that he kind of bent the truth just a bit to get Ekdahl out for varsity football.

Here’s the situation:

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Ekdahl came to Mission Viejo as a freshman. He already made a name for himself in youth league baseball and soccer. On a whim, basically so he can be like some of his friends, he tried out for the freshman football team.

“I remember standing out there not knowing what to do,” he said. “One of the coaches yelled, ‘OK, run to your positions,’ and I just froze. I didn’t have a position. He walked up to me and asked me, ‘What’s your position?’ I told him, ‘I don’t know, I’ll play anywhere.”

Famous last words.

He ended up playing tailback, and did so well that when the Mission Viejo varsity made it to the playoffs, Ekdahl was one of a select number of freshmen called up to the big team. Thrilled?

“I remember the first day I walked on the varsity practice field, this one big lineman looks up at me and says, “I hate freshmen,’ ” Ekdahl said. “I came real close just to turning right around and walking off the field. I realized then a guy could get really hurt with maniacs like that around. I didn’t need it.”

Ekdahl, who was among the county leaders in runs scored last baseball season, is a bona fide Division I baseball prospect. Come his sophomore year, he was thinking about just concentrating on baseball.

Drake had a hunch about what Ekdahl might become as a football player and asked Ekdahl to come out, “just to do a little kicking,” Ekdahl said. “All my friends told me it was a trick, but I said, ‘What can a little kicking hurt?’ So I went out.”

Ekdahl kicked, then Drake asked him to help out a little with a receiving drill. What could it hurt? Then, Drake asked him to help out by playing a little backup tailback. What could it hurt?

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By midseason, with starting tailback Darrin Sweazy out with an injury, Ekdahl became the team’s No. 1 back.

“A lot of my friends said, ‘I told you so,’ ” Ekdahl said. “But by then, I didn’t care. I was really into it.”

As a junior, he scored 81 points--which broke down to 7 touchdowns, 6 field goals and 21 extra points. But, for all his good works, last season ended on a downer when, against Los Alamitos in the Southern Conference semifinals, Ekdahl missed an extra point in a California Tiebreaker that gave Los Alamitos the victory and a trip to the final.

After Los Alamitos had scored a touchdown and kicked an extra point, Mission Viejo was given the ball on its 10 to try and match. Ekdahl scored after catching a short pass from quarterback Troy Kopp near the sidelines, ran a few steps, then launched himself into the end zone. The field was muddy, Ekdahl’s right shoe--his kicking shoe--had been falling apart at the toe for practically the entire game. Ekdahl kept taping the shoe, the shoe kept falling apart.

“After he scored the touchdown, I could see the sock coming out of his shoe,” Mission Viejo Coach Mike Rush said. “He was dripping mud, he was exhausted.”

Said Ekdahl: “I kicked everything on that play. The ground, the tee, a little of the ball. Everything. I don’t think I’ve ever kicked one that bad.”

The game pointed out one of the hazards of Ekdahl’s situation. Kickers need to be relaxed when they kick. Many go into a kind of trance before they strike the ball. Ekdahl usually is breathing too hard to think about any of that.

“I’ve seen him run down the sidelines a couple times on long pass plays, come back and kick a 40-yard field goal,” Rush said. “Do you know how amazing that is? I don’t care in what good shape he’s in, after a couple long passes a guy is going to be winded. Then to be able to compose himself physically and mentally to kick a long field goal. Amazing.”

Amazing. If you want to break all of Eric Ekdahl, football player, down to one word, that’s as good as any.

HOW EKDAHL SCORED Game-by-game record of the yardage of scoring plays by Mission Viejo’s Eric Ekdahl:

Opponent Touchdowns Extra points Morse 33, 25 receptions 2 kicks University 5 kicks Fountain Valley 5, 9 receptions 3 kicks Santa Ana 13, 67 receptions; 56 rush 5 kicks Westminster 63, 68 receptions 1 kick, 1 reception

Opponent Field Goals Morse University 32, 49 Fountain Valley 47 Santa Ana Westminster 37

Note: Ekdahl also threw a 4-yard touchdown pass against Fountain Valley.


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