Numbers Game for La Jolla Country Day Football: 11 and 8

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They've been told they don't play "real" football. They've been called a "weak" team that wouldn't stand a chance against the "big boys."

Finally, La Jolla Country Day has a chance to wipe out any stigma attached to the eight-man football games it plays.

The Torres replaced four non-league eight-man games on their schedule with 11-man games, and they are 3-0 in them thus far. They defeated Oakland's St. Elizabeth, 58-0, in the season opener, rolled over Marian, 68-0, on Sept. 14, and last Friday defeated 1-A San Diego Section runner-up Imperial, 42-13. The Torres' final 11-man game will be against defending 1-A champion Holtville on Oct. 20.

"We've done really well," Torres Coach Rick Woods said. "It's been a surprise to me. I knew we had the talent to play the 11-man games but didn't think we'd do this well. I expected tougher games."

Added junior running back Rashaan Salaam: "It's nice to play them (11-man games), but it's very nice when we win. I feel very good about this team. This was a good year to go 11-man. Next year we're going to lose a lot of players. Last year would have been good, but we weren't that sure of ourselves."

Last year while making up the schedule, Woods wanted his team (8-2 last season) to play tougher competition and decided an 11-man team was the way to do it. Woods said last season's non-league schedule was too easy and that when it came down to the Section playoffs, the Torres weren't prepared. In its first championship game, La Jolla Country Day lost to four-time eight-man champion Francis Parker, 23-22.

Although Woods said the 11-man game offers a way of playing better opponents, players see it as a chance to prove people wrong about the Torres.

"People think we're a weak team, that we don't use gear," Salaam said. "It disappoints me when we don't get more recognition, because we have good athletes."

Added Darren Hamilton, a senior linebacker getting attention from Colorado: "A lot of people don't think we play real football or (they think) that we're not a good team. The exposure is good for us. Now people can see who we are."

Saturday, the Torres play their eight-man league opener against Midway Baptist but will have only Friday evening to prepare for it. It's Outdoor Education Week at the school and the ninth- and 10th-graders are on camping trips, and the juniors and seniors are touring colleges and won't return until Friday.

"It's fortunate (for the Torres) that it (Midway Baptist) is not one of the tougher teams," Woods said. "We did a little bit (of eight-man) at the beginning of the season."

Woods said the step up to 11-man wasn't difficult. The Torres will play Holtville after three eight-man games, but Woods said the adjustment should go smoothly because his team already has been initiated.

"We run the same 'I'-option offense," Woods said. "I've been running it since 1984. It's the same for 11-man, but we add two linemen and then receivers to the passing scheme. It's the same plays, same language, same scheme and same formations."

In the first game of the season, Woods said he "kept things simple" and converted a lot of the plays from eight-man.

"The major adjustment is in the passing game," Woods said. "We now have two extra receivers."

The second difference is the field size: 80 yards long by 40 yards wide in eight-man, 100 by 53 1/3 in 11-man. This difference could affect the kicking game, but junior kicker Eric Abrams said his game hasn't been altered.

"As far as the rush goes, it doesn't really affect me," Abrams said. "The kickoff is 10 yards farther back, and the hash marks are three to five yards wider.

"We like playing the 11-man games. If we had known we'd have this much success we'd have scheduled harder games."

Woods said that during spring football the team spent a lot of time learning the 11-man passing offense. But quarterback Sean Saadeh threw the ball only six times in the first two games combined because the Torres took overwhelming leads in both games.

"In the Imperial game we did throw more," Woods said. "All this work done on the passing game, I wanted Sean to experience it in a game."

Saadeh completed seven of 15 passes for 147 yards against Imperial, the only team to challenge the Torres. Woods said he was glad to see Imperial trailing only 13-7 at halftime.

"That was the type of challenge we wanted," Woods said. "I wanted to look into their eyes and see how they were going to respond."

One problem that has arisen for La Jolla Country Day, which has an enrollment of 240 students, is filling an 11-man roster.

One of the reasons Woods added the 11-man games is he thought there would be at least 25 players on varsity. By when four students he was counting on decided not to play and two others didn't show up, Woods ended up with 19 players. For the first two games, Woods moved four players up from junior varsity.

Unfortunately, the sophomores left on their camping trip Saturday morning, so Woods was without those players for that afternoon's game against Imperial.

"In 11-man, we couldn't substitute too freely; actually, we didn't substitute at all--we rotated," Woods said. "Some kids would play offense for one play, then move to defense on the next. Only one or two will have to play both positions in our eight-man games, but now some of the kids who were starters for 11-man games won't be."

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