THE HIGH SCHOOLS / STEVE ELLING : Sawatzke Sharpens Kennedy Defense After a Blunt Move

The chains were moving in a blur, prompting warning lights to flash on the Kennedy High sideline.

Something surely was amiss, because the Golden Cougar defense kept missing San Fernando quarterback Leon Blunt on his option keeper.

The whistle blew after another healthy gain by Blunt, who rolled up 45 yards in his first five carries. Kennedy called time out and made an adjustment to contain Blunt on the outside.

Blunt soon thereafter was introduced to inside linebacker Alex Sawatzke, who again had the stands buzzing with his punitive brand of defense.


Take, for instance, Sawatzke’s first-half tackle of San Fernando kick return man Brian Brison. Actually, calling it a tackle is an overstatement because Sawatzke did not leave his feet when he drilled the fast-darting Brison.

As Brison cut down the sideline, Sawatzke leveled him with a concussive shot. Kennedy partisans went wild. Two Golden Cougars on the sideline were overheard making the following exchange:

Player No. 1: “Who was it?”

Player No. 2: “Alex.”


Player No. 1: “Figures.”

“The hit he put on Brison was the kind the whole crowd responded to,” Kennedy Coach Bob Francola said. “That’s the kind of game he’s had week after week.”

Sawatzke (6-foot-2, 235 pounds) has been a one-man SWAT team at times and has the stickers to prove that he is the biggest stick- er in school history.

Francola awards helmet decals of Golden Cougars for big hits, and nobody has more than Kennedy’s man in the middle. Francola calls the decals “Bad Cats,” and Sawatzke is the pick of the litter.

Sawatzke earned nine decals through the first seven games this season for Kennedy (7-1), eclipsing the school mark of six set in 1986 by Dion Lambert, now a cornerback at UCLA.

Sawatzke keyed a defensive effort that was in large part responsible for Kennedy’s 37-10 victory over San Fernando on Friday night. Before 4,000 spectators and dozens of former Kennedy players, Sawatzke showed that he ranks among the best the school has produced.

Francola was walking down the sideline during live action when a former player, Mark Korff, ambled up and placed his arm on Francola’s back. Korff, an All-City Section linebacker at Kennedy who played at Florida and in the Canadian Football League, was chewing tobacco and spewing superlatives.

“He’s as good a high school linebacker as I’ve seen,” Korff said. “He would have put me on the bench.”


It was another benchmark performance for Sawatzke, who leads a defense that has allowed averages of nine points and 144.5 yards a game. Korff watched from the sidelines along with former USC and San Francisco 49er player Jeff Bregel, who wreaked similar havoc at Kennedy.

“Every once in a while, you come across a kid who controls the game,” Francola said. “Bregel did that from his nose guard position, Korff at linebacker, and Lambert did it too.

“Alex truly controls the game inside.”

And as his colorful helmet will attest, run in his direction and Sawatzke is liable to turn a back inside-out.

Blunt, on the other hand, was turned outside-in. After Kennedy’s adjustment, Blunt gained only 30 yards in his next 14 carries.

Heady stuff: Brent Newcomb, you genius, you.

The Antelope Valley coach made a gutsy call that helped the Antelopes put away pesky Saugus, 54-38, Friday night. Who cares if it took a bit of razzle-dazzle that left Newcomb frazzled?

Antelope Valley’s first possession of the second half stalled at the Saugus 39. Newcomb sent the punt team out on fourth and one but first grabbed Eugene Dreher and whispered into the player’s ear hole.


Newcomb ordered Dreher to run a fake called “Eugenius,” which is designed to get the ball into namesake Eugene’s hands.

Dreher lined up at wideout, then sped around punter Peter Holt on a reverse. Holt faked the punt and held the ball behind his back for Dreher in a modified Statue of Liberty play.

Dreher cruised by and . . . dropped the exchange from Holt, starting a wild chain reaction. Several players dived for the ball, sending it tumbling beyond the 50-yard line. Antelope Valley’s Rodney Flakes picked up the ball on the run at the 40, turned the corner and raced to the Saugus 30 for a hard-earned, nine-yard gain and a first down.

Six plays later, Freddie Edwards scored to give Antelope Valley a 41-17 lead.

It proved one thing: Flakes and geniuses run in the same circles at wacky Antelope Valley.

Foray into the 4-A: Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman got his first look at the future during passing-league season. Prospects were brighter than the glint of the stadium lights on a brand-new helmet.

A longtime member of the City 3-A Division, Sylmar was promoted to the 4-A this year. By Engilman’s estimation, Sylmar was hardly out of place, and the seven games the Spartans have played have not changed his mind.

Friday night, Sylmar spanked Poly, the defending 3-A champion, 47-20, and scored on its first six possessions. A key game with Birmingham (7-0) looms this week for the Spartans (6-1), and beyond that, playoff dates with even more ornery hombres.

Engilman and company await the challenge, especially after handling Poly, which presented Sylmar’s biggest test so far.

“I’d like to see my guys play with the best,” Engilman said of perennial 4-A powers such as Carson, Banning, San Fernando and Granada Hills. “Like I said before the game to the team, I really believed we were better than Poly.”

Include Francola among the converts.

“They’re ready for prime time,” said Francola, whose team faced Sylmar in the passing leagues. “They have good size and San Fernando-type quickness.”

No refund necessary: Chaminade Coach Rich Lawson didn’t exactly deliver on his promise that the fathers of two players would run his offense on the team’s first series against St. Francis on Friday.

But the way things worked out--Chaminade held on for a 20-13 victory--nobody seemed to mind.

The fathers won the right to serve as assistants by posting the high bid in a recent charity auction. Lawson admitted with a laugh that when it came time to play, he pulled rank and also said that the assistants came down with stage fright.

“To be honest, I called the first series,” Lawson said, laughing. “We’d planned to have them out there with headsets and everything, but. . . .”

A prudent move, it seems. On Chaminade’s second play, tailback Justin Giovannettone broke a long gainer that set up a seven-yard scoring run on the next play by Franklin Saunders.

“They checked in every once in a while with a suggestion,” Lawson said of his temporary assistants. “We ran a reverse once and a couple of other plays they suggested. Everybody seemed to have fun with it.”