TONIGHT'S COMMUNITY COLLEGE FOOTBALL : Fullerton vs. Rancho Santiago Features Two Stellar Defensive Backs

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Gonzalez would do just about anything for an interception. Orlando Robbins seems to get them without really trying.

Gonzalez, a cornerback from Rancho Santiago College had five interceptions last season as a freshman, but hasn't had one in seven games this season.

Robbins, a free safety from Fullerton, had six interceptions last season and has eight already this season. Three times this season Robbins has intercepted two passes in a game.

Fullerton (5-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play) travels to Santa Ana Stadium tonight to play host to Rancho Santiago (6-1, 5-1) in a Mission Conference Central Division game starting at 7 p.m. Fullerton is 2-0 in the division and Rancho Santiago is 1-1.

Last season, Fullerton was 7-0 and Rancho Santiago 6-0-1 when the two teams met. Fullerton's 24-17 victory has memories, good and bad, for Robbins and Gonzalez.

Robbins and a teammate combined on a tackle at the Fullerton two-yard line to stop Rancho Santiago in the final minute.

Gonzalez's memory is more painful. He was beaten by wide receiver Tim Imperiali for a 66-yard touchdown pass that gave Fullerton a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

"I was so mad. I couldn't believe I let him get behind me," Gonzalez said. "That was the only time the whole game he lined up on my side. I looked for him the whole second half but he never came to my side again."

Gonzalez, an all-conference player last season, is equally strong against the run and the pass. According to his coaches, his true talent is how quickly he "reads" plays.

"That's something you can't coach," said Alex Henderson, Rancho Santiago's defensive backfield coach. "I can't remember him making a mistake reading. He's the best defensive back I've ever had."

Gonzalez came to Rancho Santiago from East Los Angeles, where he grew up and played football at Salesian High School. He went to Glendale College, but said he didn't get a fair chance to start or play. A coach at his high school, Brett Daily, knew of Rancho Santiago and suggested he try there.

He has had to alter his life style somewhat to make the 80-mile round trip each day.

"It makes for some long days," he said. "But I think I made the right decision to come here, no matter home long it takes."

It seems most of Robbins' collegiate football career has happened by accident.

He was recruited in 1986 from Buena Park High School, where he was a wide receiver. The Colorado State coaches were watching film of another player but saw Robbins and offered him a scholarship.

His first year of college, he was moved to cornerback and redshirted. Neither change fit very well with Robbins, and he left after a year. He worked the next year, and didn't go to school.

Finally, after repeated calls from the Fullerton staff, he decided to go out last fall as a wide receiver.

But the staff moved him to free safety on a hunch, and he excelled. He played mostly as the fifth defensive back on passing downs.

"They told me to go in and just go after the ball," Robbins said. "I'll still doing that. I really have to credit the other defensive backs. They all do their jobs, which allows me to roam around."

Robbins started slowly this season because of a knee injury suffered in practice last spring. When the knee didn't heal all summer, Robbins had arthroscopic surgery in early August and was slowed at the start of the season. But now he says he has recovered fully.

"He's a true free safety," said Al Feola, Fullerton's defensive backfield coach. "He has deceptive speed. He closes on the ball very quickly and has great hands. That's how he gets so many interceptions."

In tonight's other games, also at 7 p.m.:

Orange Coast (5-2, 4-2, 1-1) at Riverside (7-0, 6-0, 2-0)--OCC is allowing 98 yards a game on the ground, but Riverside is averaging a conference-best 268 yards rushing. Daryl McChristian of Riverside leads the conference with 1,131 yards and has run for 456 yards in his past two games.

Saddleback (1-6, 1-5, 0-2) vs. Golden West (3-4, 3-3, 0-2) at Orange Coast College--Both teams are trying to stop losing streaks. Saddleback has dropped three in a row, Golden West two.

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