ON THE PREP PATH : If Sparks Gets OK to Play at Mater Dei, His Presence Will Be Felt

Derek Sparks came to the door, and the floor rumbled beneath him.

If Sparks' strides can make the ground shake, what kind of tremors are we in for if Sparks is declared eligible to play football for Mater Dei this season?

Get the Richter scale ready.

Sparks, a 6-foot, 212-pound all-Southern Section running back last year at Van Nuys Montclair Prep, enrolled at Mater Dei this week. If Sparks is ruled eligible to play for the Monarchs--the Southern Section executive committee will meet at 11 a.m. today to discuss the situation--Mater Dei will have a few additions to its football program:

--A remedy for its mediocre offense.

--Another year of rumor and innuendo.

Regarding the latter, Mater Dei has been in this position before.

Two years ago, the school was placed on probation without sanctions when the Southern Section ruled that Mater Dei had violated a rule regarding illegal inducements in the transfer of Corona del Mar quarterback Dan O'Neil.

While it might be determined that Mater Dei--and Sparks--has acted properly in this case, bitter words, or at least whispers, from rival camps surely will hit the rumor mill.

"Did you hear? They promised Sparks cash! A car! An appearance on 'The Simpsons!' ... "

Mater Dei has heard it before. And so has Sparks.

The 17-year-old from Wharton, Tex., already has attended three high schools in three years.

As a freshman, he went to his hometown school, Wharton High. The next year he moved to Southern California, attending Wilmington Banning where, after gaining 1,394 yards, he was named the state's sophomore of the year by Cal-Hi Sports.

He transferred to Montclair Prep for his junior year, gaining 1,944 yards and scoring 35 touchdowns last season. Two weeks ago, he played in Montclair Prep's season opener in Hawaii, gaining 63 yards in a 28-7 loss to Honolulu Farrington. He left the game in the third quarter after spraining his right ankle.

Now, Sparks says, he is transferring to Mater Dei because his mother, June Sparks, was still living in Texas but wanted to be with Derek for his senior year.

"She had friends in this (Santa Ana) area," Sparks said. "Plus she didn't want to live in the Valley."

Why Mater Dei?

"I liked Mater Dei because they stress academics so much," Derek Sparks said. "Once you go to a private school, you get used to everything being first-rate. I didn't want to sell myself short."

Sparks did not attend classes Tuesday. He said he was waiting for his schedule to be finalized. Monday was the first day of classes.

Asked if thought Mater Dei wouldn't be taking a little heat from rival programs if he becomes eligible, Sparks shook his head and smiled.

"Oh, yeah," he said with a grin.

"When I transferred to Montclair, there were lots of newspaper articles (with) quotes from the other teams," Sparks said.

"They said stuff like, 'Yeah, he's getting paid to play,' and all that garbage. . . .

"But no rules were ever broken. . . . One reason I didn't play last week is they (Mater Dei administrators) were making sure everything was OK and official."

But is everything OK with Sparks? Moving three times in three years has to wear on you, right?

Montclair Prep assistant football coach John Hazelton said Sparks sounded as if he was nearly in tears when he left a message on his answering machine about leaving Montclair.

"When I think about it I go, 'Dang, ' " Sparks said. "If I could do it all over again, I would've just picked one school so things could just be the same. But things don't always work out that way. Sometimes you just do with what comes your way.

"It's hard, though. You have got to drop your friends and the guys on the football team. . . . But my mom wanted to be with me and I wanted to be with her. She wanted to live here, so I moved to be together."

The gray shorts Sparks was wearing had a Mater Dei football logo stamped on them. His gray T-shirt had Montclair Football across the front .

To which school does he feel more affinity?

Only time--and yards gained--will tell.

Add Sparks: Sparks, who was listed as a preseason prep All-American by SuperPrep magazine this year, says his goal is to break the Southern Section career-rushing record of 5,998 yards set in 1986-88 by Russell White of Encino Crespi.

Including the 63 yards he gained in the Hawaii game two weeks ago, Sparks has a career total of 3,401 yards.

He'll need a 2,598-yard season to break White's mark.

"I know it's going to be tough," Sparks said. "I've already missed one game, and I didn't get to play a full game in Hawaii . . . Also, it looks like it'll be more difficult because I'm moving up divisions (Mater Dei is Division I, Montclair Prep is Division IX).

"It's a challenge, but I like challenges. Whatever comes, comes, though. The main thing is to fit in with the program."

Or get in.

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