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MR. EXCITEMENT : Conway Has Uncanny Knack for Scoring Touchdowns

Times Staff Writer

When Curtis Conway started his first varsity football game at quarterback as a sophomore at Hawthorne High School, people knew he was something special.

He had blazing speed, a strong arm and the ability to turn normal plays into exciting touchdowns. It figured to be just a matter of time before he would dominate any game he played in.

In the 2 years since his debut, Conway has lived up to his early promise, and tonight he will lead Hawthorne in its Southern Section Division II quarterfinal game against Canyon Country Canyon.

The electrifying, 6-foot 2-inch Conway has a knack for producing touchdowns. This season, he has thrown 10 touchdown passes, rushed for another 10 and has also scored on a punt return. He has accounted for 21 of the Cougars’ 38 touchdowns.

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What makes him special, however, is not the actual number of touchdowns he scores, but his methods in reaching the end zone.

Conway has made spectacular plays common in his high school career. For example, in the Cougars’ 41-28 loss to Bay League rival Santa Monica earlier this season, Conway made several plays that deserved replay attention.

On one scramble, Conway was headed for a touchdown but a Santa Monica player awaited him near the 5-yard line. Conway faked, then effortlessly sailed into a front somersault over him for a Cougar touchdown.

In Hawthorne’s game with Pasadena last week, Conway turned a fourth and 1 quarterback sneak into a 61-yard touchdown to lead the Cougars to a 13-0 victory.

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“Everything I do on the field just comes naturally,” said Conway, who has an overall 24-8-2 varsity record as the Cougars’ starting quarterback. “I just love to play the game and to do whatever is needed to win.”

A key factor to Conway’s football success is his speed. He is regarded as one of the top sprinters in the nation, taking second in the 100 meters and third in the 200 in the state track and field finals last spring. He has run 10.61 in the 100 and 21.22 in the 200. He also has a 45.5 split in the 400 to his credit while running on Hawthorne’s 1,600-meter relay team.

Hawthorne Football Coach Goy Casillas has nothing but praise for Conway.

“Curtis is a great leader,” said Casillas, in his second year as Hawthorne’s head coach. “He has not missed one practice since he has been here, despite being sick, hurt or whatever.

“He is always trying to expand his play on the field. In one game last season, he played quarterback, wide receiver and running back, and he scored a touchdown at every position. He has always wanted to play defense for us, and this season we were weak in our secondary so we let him start at safety. He turned out to be probably the best DB in the league.”

This season, Conway has completed 74 of 143 passes for 1,097 yards and rushed for 762 yards in 81 carries. Last season, he passed for 1,517 yards and ran for 834 yards in leading Hawthorne to an Ocean League tri-championship and to the quarterfinals in the Southern Section playoffs, losing to eventual Southern Conference champion El Toro.

The amazing statistic of Conway’s junior season is that he accounted for 39 (21 rushing and 18 passing) of Hawthorne’s 42 touchdowns.

“He scares you to death,” said Bob Johnson, El Toro’s coach. “He can break it open at any time. He’s as good I’ve seen in that way. He just runs around and beats you. It’s not that he can’t throw, but the real way he beats you is with his scrambling. Trying to contain him is tough. One time he made six or seven of our guys miss him.”

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Casillas believes that the different defenses used by opponents to try and contain Conway has helped the Cougars this season.

“We have a more balanced attack now because everyone gets their share,” Casillas said. “But, the credit still goes to Curtis. He has matured as a quarterback in knowing our offense and he now has the option of calling play audibles at the line. He also is reading defenses better and is holding on to the ball a little longer.”

College scouts have also been impressed with Conway. He is rated as one of the top prospects in this year’s recruiting class and can basically choose any school.

Conway, who idolizes USC quarterback Rodney Peete, plans to make recruiting visits to USC, UCLA, Miami and Oklahoma, with a possible trip to Notre Dame.

“I want to go to a school that has both a good football and track program because I just can’t sit still during any off season,” said Conway, who will turn 18 in January. “But, I am definitely going to school as a football player first.

“I try to ignore the schools that say that they’d guarantee me playing time as a freshman. They really can’t say that because they don’t know how I will fit in once I get there. At USC, they just put it straight on the line by saying that I would have a chance with no promises and I respect that.”

Along with choosing a college to attend, Conway also has to decide on what position he will play in college. Many coaches that run option offenses love Conway’s speed, elusiveness and passing ability, and there are others who see him as an wide receiver.

Many high school quarterbacks have been asked to switch positions in college, despite their desire to remain at quarterback. However, unlike Peete, Conway would not have a problem with a change.

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“I like playing quarterback, but I wouldn’t mind playing wide receiver,” Conway said. “I started playing quarterback once I arrived at Hawthorne and I feel that I have developed at the position, but I just want to play once I go to college.”

Conway also does not necessarily see himself as an option quarterback.

“People have said that I would be better than (former Banning star and current Oklahoma quarterback) Jamelle Hollieway,” Conway said. “But, I have never run the option. I see myself more of a rollout quarterback that has the ability to scramble and make the big play.”

Conway’s ability to scramble is comparable to that of Peete, but his lankiness and slingshot passing arm are more like Randall Cunningham of the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I have always been able to scramble,” Conway said. “I guess I picked up the ability to dodge people from playing street football with my older uncles when I was younger. I had to because they used to always catch me and knock me down.”

Said Casillas: “It is remarkable to see him scramble. As a sophomore, he wouldn’t always see his receivers once he got going, but now he has really improved in that area.”

Conway also has noticed his improvement.

“When I started as a sophomore, I didn’t know how to take control, but now I have more confidence and that has helped me in all areas. This year, I have taken the initiative to be more of a leader.”

Conway realizes the importance of tonight’s game, but he is not looking at it any differently than any other.

“Every game in the playoffs is do or die,” Conway said. “Our goal from the start was to reach the championship, and that is when I plan to play my last high school game.”


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