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SOUTHERN SECTION FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS : Small Player Casts Big Shadow : Division VIII: Matt Rechner is slight, but his contributions to Trabuco Hills’ winning season haven’t been.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Trabuco Hills’ Matt Rechner walked in wearing shorts and a denim jacket. He sat down at the banquet table and surveyed the room from his slouch.

“Are you pretty comfortable in situations like this?” Rechner was asked, a reference to the collection of football players gathered at a media luncheon kicking off championship week for the Southern Section football playoffs.

“Yeah, I am,” Rechner answered. “I’m a little nervous with Costa Mesa over there, though.”

Trabuco Hills’ opponent was at the adjacent table. Costa Mesa beat Rechner’s team, 13-3, on Oct. 30, and won the Pacific Coast League title, its first since 1978. Trabuco Hills had been the two-time defending league champion.

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But Saturday, when the two teams get out of their civvies and strap on their helmets, Rechner won’t be nearly as nervous.

Matt Rechner doesn’t slouch on a football field.

A starting receiver and defensive back, he might be one of the smaller players on the field (5 feet 8, 160 pounds) but his presence is one of the largest.

Rechner puts his teammates at ease and makes the other guys nervous.

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“I think he adds a big-play ability to our offense because of his speed and quickness; he can get open and go for the bomb,” said end Brad Cervantes, who has played varsity alongside Rechner for three years and is also a two-way starter. “Defensively, he’s about impossible to throw against; he’s going to knock it down or pick it off.

“He definitely brings a lot of leadership to the huddle. He’s very serious on the field, and he’s a motivator, either by his words or his actions.”

Rechner has five interceptions this season--including one for a touchdown--and 16 in his career. Opposing quarterbacks were so wary, they aimed their passes near Trabuco Hills’ other cornerback, Geoff Beckham, who intercepted nine passes.

Trabuco Hills (10-3) wants Costa Mesa (9-2-2) to pass, but the Mustangs didn’t need to in a 35-7 semifinal victory against San Marino.

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When they first met, Trabuco Hills limited Binh Tran to 51 yards and DeWayne Crenshaw to 78--including a 61-yard scoring run. Costa Mesa’s other score was set up by Charles Chatman’s 30-yard punt return to the three.

The real reason Trabuco Hills lost was the offense, which was horrible.

Since then, J.C. Pintsak has settled in as the primary quarterback, rather than being part of a three-man rotation. The stability has paid off by scoring 35, 33 and 42 points in its three playoff victories.

Rechner averaged 17.5 yards in 30 regular-season catches but has averaged 21 yards for 12 catches in the playoffs, including a 61-yarder against Bellflower. He has caught eight touchdown passes.

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“I think we’re peaking at the right time,” Rechner said. “We’re clicking offensively and defensively. It’s just a feeling, but it’s a feeling that it’s all coming together.”

Rechner’s career has come together nicely since making the transition from quarterback his freshman season (Trabuco Hills was 5-4) to receiver/defensive back. He has caught 105 passes in three years, 19 for touchdowns.

“Size is his only limitation,” Trabuco Hills Coach Jim Barnett said, “and he doesn’t seem to care.”

Rechner’s grade-point average is 4.03 and he is being considered by some Ivy League schools--Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, Princeton--that covet his style and play.

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“I play smart,” Rechner said. “Coach Barnett really listens and has a lot of faith in me. It’s taken a couple of years to refine my football smarts, but I’ll tell him something and he’ll go right to it. He has a lot of faith in his players.”

There are a lot of reasons to have faith in Rechner, whose experience has served him well.

“I’ve probably played with the best quarterback that’s come through our school, outside David Lowery (Pat Barnes),” Rechner said. “I try to keep the guys calm: ‘Hey, relax.’

“Physically, I’ve got pretty good speed and, I think, good strength for my size. I can take a pounding going both ways. I’ve got stamina. On defense, coaches don’t have to worry about me, about guys going deep.”

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