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Carrying On : El Camino Real’s Shinnick Runs Unimpeded by the Legacy of His Football-Playing Father

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Gotta be as good as Dad. Gotta do what he did.

Any son might find those thoughts making cutback runs through his head.

Don’t want to let him down. Don’t want to be a failure.

As parents, Don and Marsha Shinnick decided early to head off such trauma in their children.

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“We just told them . . . if you’re going to clean your room, do a good job,” Don Shinnick said. “If you’re going to play football, do the best you can.”

Though details are sketchy on how clean he kept his room as a boy, it’s clear that when it came to football, Don Shinnick cleaned house. Two-way standout at UCLA . . . 13-year NFL career that included appearances in the famous 1958 NFL championship game and Super Bowl III . . . Assistant coaching positions with four NFL teams.

But Chris Shinnick, the youngest of five brothers, has a clear head and running room ahead of him. Talent and drive have suffused the El Camino Real High senior without leaving any residue of pressure.

Shinnick (5-foot-11, 188 pounds) has rushed for 350 yards (5.7-yard average) in leading the Conquistadores to a surprising 3-0 start, including a 6-0 victory over defending City Section 4-A Division champion Sylmar last week.

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Those accomplishments are good by many standards, but the only ones Shinnick has had to worry about are his own.

“There’s never been any pressure,” Chris said. “Football’s always been in the family. It’s always been around. It just happened. . . . (Dad) never said, ‘You’re gonna play football.’ He never pressured me even to go lift or anything. It’s all on my own. But he always encourages me.”

Any contact a high school football player has with an NFL standout is bound to leave an impression. When that contact comes daily and is supplemented with newspaper clippings, videotapes and family photo albums, that impression is going to be one of awe.

“He was actually faster than I am in high school,” Chris said. “That blows my mind. I’ve just read articles. He was a stud, basically.”

No one expected, much less demanded, that Don’s offspring duplicate his efforts. In fact, the oldest, Joel, eschewed football for motocross.

Those next in line did choose football and had admirable careers. Josh, a safety, played in two Rose Bowls for UCLA in the mid-1980s; Peter, who played tight end at Colorado, is head recruiter for Oregon State; Adam was a high school All-American running back who went on to play at Penn State and California.

Either way, it was OK. So once Chris decided football was for him, then all the family expertise was available as an aid, not an albatross.

“I pretty much knew the game before I ever had to play,” Chris said. In case you thought he would ever forget it, well, forget it. First of all, Dad is there to help keep the game in hand.

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After working as an assistant for the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, Don Shinnick is retired--temporarily, at least. He has contacted three of the five NFL expansion franchise candidates about returning to coaching.

In the meantime, make no mistake, he is around.

One can hear the buzz of sports psychologists sharpening pencils. Sounds like a classic case of Little League Parent Syndrome: Dad innocently tries to find athletic glory through son’s accomplishments, drives son batty in the process.

The difference is that this dad has already had his fill of glory.

El Camino Real football Coach Mike Maio, who knows something about coaching famous sons, can attest; Maio spent three years with Dan Cey, son of Dodger great Ron Cey, on his baseball team at El Camino Real.

"(Don Shinnick) and Ron Cey were around a lot,” Maio said. “They watch practice; they help out by being supportive and never get in your way. They help out immensely, but they’re never in a negative context.”

Adam Shinnick does his part as well. Each weekday afternoon, after serving as the entire business faculty at Notre Dame High, Adam moonlights as an assistant coach for El Camino Real.

“I’m hard on Chris,” Adam said. “I’m hard on Chris in practice. I’m hard on him in games, because I know what he can do.”

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Chris is at Adam’s mercy because Adam often makes substitutions at running back and in the secondary, where Chris also plays. But if anything, Adam is protective of his brother.

“He asks after every play, ‘Are you OK?’ ” Chris said. “I’ll say ‘Yes’ until he takes me out.”

Those given to stereotyping might think that Mom would step in to save her son’s skin (and bones) even sooner. But Marsha Shinnick trusts for the best.

It’s a remarkably stoic attitude toward a son whose varsity career was barely two games old when he suffered a broken left arm that ended his sophomore season.

“I’ve never had any fear,” she said. “Even after he broke his arm. . . . I just don’t think about it. I pray for his protection. I do all my prayers, and then it’s OK.”

Shinnick had rushed for 191 yards in his first two games before the injury, which came during a 28-7 loss to Sylmar.

“Looking back on it, I’m kind of glad it happened,” he said. “It just kind of humbled me. When you’re a sophomore starting fullback, you can start getting a big head. At the time I hated it, but looking back, it was just a lesson, really.”

Shinnick returned his junior year to rush for 949 yards and 12 touchdowns, but he was not nearly satisfied. The Conquistadores were losing too often for that--55-0 to Sylmar, for example.

“This (year) is basically my high school career,” Shinnick said.

On Sept. 15, against North Hollywood, Shinnick had what some considered the game of his career: 180 yards rushing, 57 yards receiving and three touchdowns on offense, and two interceptions--one returned for a touchdown--on defense.

However, after two nightmarish experiences against Sylmar, he decided his final game against the Spartans would serve as his personal barometer. “This is the game that basically makes or breaks me,” Shinnick said the night before El Camino Real played Sylmar.

For a while, his concentration was broken. One play after Shinnick was ruled down at the one-yard line after rushing for an apparent touchdown, he and quarterback Ryan Venturine missed each other on a handoff and El Camino Real fumbled away the ball.

But Shinnick’s 10-yard run late in the third quarter for the only touchdown against Sylmar was a triumph. It came against a heralded defense.

"(Shinnick) attacked the hole where he was supposed to and we filled it, so he bounced outside,” Sylmar Coach Jeff Engilman said. “Our linebacker filled the hole where he was supposed to, but because Shinnick bounced outside, he didn’t get him.”

Engilman discovered what others already knew: Shinnick has excellent field vision.

“He’s able to run with his eyes and see the blocks and read them well,” Maio said. “Whatever he’s been given, he’s developed to the best because he’s a hard worker.

“I think you can tell him certain things and try to put him in a situation, but I think that’s something that develops on his own. We don’t have a drill (for that). There are just some guys who can do it well and some guys who can’t.”

Those who can usually end up with college scholarships.

“I never had a doubt I could get a scholarship,” Chris said. “That’s the goal.”

Numerous Division I schools, including UCLA and Arizona State, have expressed interest in Shinnick.

Casting a sideways glance at Adam, Chris adds: “I look at my brother now. If he got a scholarship, I sure can.”

Shinnick’s deadpan sense of humor--imagine Bob Newhart but with a better time in the 40--might be the final ingredient for his success. Shinnick plays the straight man off the field about as well as he cuts and slashes on it.

Just recently, Venturine and Shinnick were persuaded to join the school choir. Venturine, at least, can play the piano. “We both can’t sing to save our lives,” Venturine said. “It’s hysterical, looking at him trying to sing.”

The big concert is coming up in October. Just above the sound of his voice cracking, one can almost hear Chris Shinnick’s internal voice:

Gotta be my best. Can’t let Dad laugh at me too much. Just gotta be me.


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