Take your pick: Albert Jones or Mario Mattison. You can’t lose. Either way you get a football player who has excelled on offense and defense. No matter which one you choose, you’re getting one of the highest-rated players on the Westside.
Jones, who transferred to Westchester High in the spring, caught 32 passes for 606 yards and 10 touchdowns last year at St. Monica. He also had 61 tackles and four interceptions at the safety position and returned four punts for touchdowns, including one for 95 yards.
He is the only returning first-team All-Westside player, having made the team as a defensive back in his junior year. Emfinger’s National High School Football Recruiting Service considers him one of the top 20 receivers in the nation. Tom Lemming Prep Football Report rates him among the top 45 receivers in the West and he made the G & W recruiting report’s top 16 wide receivers in the West.
Fairfax High’s Mattison had 1,100 yards rushing and intercepted five passes last year for the Lions. Lemming lists him as one of the top 85 prospects in California and he is among the top 21 defensive backs in the West according to G & W.
In each case, the coaches have tried to get the most out of these talented players by using them in any capacity.
"(Jones) is the type of player you want on the field all the time,” St. Monica Coach Angelo Jackson said. “He made us a little bit better because he can do so many things.”
Westchester Coach Larry Wein said he plans to use 6-3, 200-pound Jones as a tight end who will line up wide on some sets, and as a safety on defense.
“He’s a good athlete, he could probably make any position he wanted to play,” Wein said.
For Mattison, a love of contact and surprising strength despite his 5-foot-11 frame make him an effective offensive and defensive player.
“As a a runner, he has tremendous strength for a kid who’s 170 pounds,” Fairfax Coach Ron Price said. “He generates a lot of power. He’s elusive, but he’ll run over people.”
The same is true on defense.
“He’s a hitter,” Price said. “He’s a Ronnie Lott-type player. He loves contact and he loves to hit.”
In fact, Price said, Mattison likes contact a little too much.
“I think Mario needs to play a little more under control,” he said. “He’s extremely aggressive on the football field. He needs to channel that energy.”
The coach’s message is starting to get across to Mattison.
“I’m trying to relax more on the field, not looking to light everybody up on every play,” Mattison said. “I guess that’s what he’s talking about.”
Jackson said Jones needs to run crisper pass patterns, but Jones’ primary concern is increasing his speed. He has been running up and down hills and riding his bicycle in an effort to drop his time in the 40 from 4.51 seconds to “a legit 4.4.”
Jones said he has adjusted to life at Westchester with its larger student body. Summer workouts with Comets quarterback Bradley Freeman have him setting his sights for the top.
“I think we’ll be the connection for the 3-A division,” Jones said. “I think we’re going to try and break as many records as we can.”
Mattison might not have such lofty goals, but he does expect to have a big season after rushing yardage dipped 300 yards last year from his 1988 total of 1,400 yards. Price said a more experienced line is critical to Mattison’s success.
“Considering that he played with one of the greenest high school teams I’ve ever been around, I think he did a great job,” Price said.
Mattison said: “I expect to bounce back and get at least 1,600 yards this year. (The line has) improved a lot from last year. I expect they’ll be better.”
Fortunately, Jones and Mattison don’t live in the same neighborhood. With the amount of mail they’ve received from colleges, it would be a postal carrier’s nightmare.
Jones, whose mother has kept all of his recruiting letters organized in a binder, said he’s narrowed his choices to USC, Florida State, Nebraska, Washington and Arizona State.
Mattison will choose between USC, Miami, Colorado, Tennessee, Washington, Washington State and Illinois. Although some schools have reservations about Mattison’s size, “I hope to prove them wrong on that,” he said.
The players said they are being recruited primarily to play offense, but the ability to play on offense and defense make them all the more enticing to colleges. The process of switching from the hunter to the hunted in a matter of seconds might seem difficult, but neither said it poses much of a problem.
Mattison’s solution is simple. “Stay calm and pay attention to what’s going on on the field,” he said.
Both athletes have excelled in other sports as well. Mattison plays baseball and runs track and Jones was on the baseball, volleyball, basketball and track teams at St. Monica. Jones plans to play basketball and run track at Westchester.
If seems as if they have a tough time choosing a favorite sport, try asking them to name a favorite position.
“Running back,” Mattison said, then thought again. “Really both. I like both of them.”
Jones said: “I’d have to say receiver. Even though I did better as a defensive back.”
The new school, new team and national attention has done little to faze Jones. He has dedicated the 1990 season to his grandfather, who died in May.
“I feel very relaxed,” Jones said. “I’m just going to go out and play the game as well as I can play. I don’t feel any pressure.”
His steady demeanor reflects the influence of his mother, C. Renae Walker, a person for whom Jones has the utmost respect.
“My mom has been a great leader,” Jones said. “She guides me in the right direction. She’s made all the right decisions as a mom.”
Mattison has also benefited from advice from a family member. His grandmother decided he should move from Detroit to Los Angeles four years ago and he didn’t need much time to realize the advantages of living in L.A.
“There’s no snow and there’s a lot more people to meet out here,” Mattison said.
But in the land of celebrities, Mattison has tried to be like the rest of his classmates despite his success on the field.
“It’s not hard, just act yourself, be yourself and try not to get a big head,” he said.
With the seasons Mattison and Jones are expected to have, that will be easier said than done.