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HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: WEEK 10 : Notre Dame a Sibling Rivalry for Giovannettone

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Giovannettone. Name sounds familiar.

Only this season, it is senior Jason Giovannettone--not brother Justin--who plays tailback for Chaminade High.

It is Jason--not Justin--who ranks high among regional scoring leaders, scoring touchdowns on the ground and through the air.

And it is Jason--not Justin--who will lead the Eagles (9-0, 4-0 in league play) against archrival Notre Dame (9-0, 4-0) for the Mission League championship tonight at Chaminade.

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Will Jason--like Justin--walk off a winner?

If he does, it will be because Chaminade has defeated Notre Dame for the first time since 1992, when senior Justin Giovannettone rushed for 160 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-23 victory that decided the league championship.

But perhaps a better question is: Will Giovannettone be able to walk off at all?

Giovannettone, who has rushed for 1,009 yards, caught 11 passes and scored 18 touchdowns, has spent four weeks nursing a sprained left ankle he suffered on a kickoff return against St. Bernard. Carried from the field that night, he returned two weeks later against Serra but still is not completely healthy.

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Giovannettone played only the first half of last week’s 42-0 rout of St. Francis, but his services no longer were needed after he rushed for two touchdowns to lead the Eagles to a 35-0 lead.

“I heard something pop and it hurt a lot,” Giovannettone said of the injury. “I worked hard to rehab it, and I’m still working hard now.”

Notre Dame, two-time defending league champion and defending Southern Section Division III champion, is Chaminade’s most formidable opponent to date. And Giovannettone figures to face waves of defenders.

Giovannettone (5 feet 8, 160 pounds) is not as big and, admittedly, not as punishing a runner as Justin (5-9, 180), a junior at UC Davis who no longer plays football.

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“He ran over people,” Giovannettone said. “I’m more like, ‘Watch out because I’m going to juke you any second.’ ”

Yet Jason might already have proven himself the more tenacious of the two, considering how quickly he has rebounded from the injury.

“It probably won’t be 100% until January, after he lays off it,” Chaminade Coach Rich Lawson said. “But he’s shown a lot of dedication and determination, rehabilitating that ankle.

“I don’t know if one is tougher than the other,” Lawson said. “Their running styles were different, but they both have an incredible work ethic.”

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For Giovannettone, suiting up at tailback for Chaminade has been part of a lifelong process of following his only brother. And similarities are apparent--especially in their ability to find the end zone.

As a senior, Justin rushed for 1,474 yards and 22 touchdowns, caught 37 passes for 387 yards and scored 25 touchdowns, second among regional scoring leaders. Jason ranks sixth among regional leaders with 112 points. He also starts in the secondary.

“I watched him every play, thinking, ‘One day, I’ll be out there,’ ” Jason said. “It’s been a challenge for me to do what he’s done and do it better.”

These days, Justin watches Jason. The older Giovannettone roamed the sidelines in September when Jason rushed for five touchdowns in a 51-20 victory over Granada Hills. He plans to be there again this evening.

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“He’s always been a tough kid,” Justin said. “He seemed pretty confident he could make it back from the injury. He’s done a pretty good job. He’s always tried to follow in my footsteps.”

Returning from injury, however, was a trail Jason had to blaze on his own. Justin played out his football career virtually injury-free.

“I thought it was bad when it happened,” Jason said. “It hurt a lot, but I started to walk on it the next day. I wanted to play the next Friday, but the coach wanted me to get better and not play.”

Being smack in the middle of a league race motivated Jason to return. Notre Dame and Chaminade, which have squared off for the title the past four seasons, have been heading for each other like a pair of runaway locomotives.

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Still, Giovannettone might have been excused for taking his time, considering what was at stake.

Jason has excelled as a baseball player at Chaminade. He considers his future to be on the diamond.

Last season, he batted .409 and struck out only once in 66 at-bats. He also stole 28 bases in 29 attempts.

Last week, Giovannettone visited Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Several other schools, including USC, are interested in him as an outfielder.

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Denny Barrett, Chaminade’s baseball coach and also an assistant to Lawson, held his breath when Giovannettone was injured.

“He’d been down before, but what concerned me is when we had to carry him off the field,” Barrett said. “But when he said, ‘I’m gonna be OK,’ you knew he would be.

“He’s such a leader. I just know that any time he’s on the field, you have a great chance to win--be it in baseball or football.”

Giovannettone believes tonight’s game will be decided by the team that makes the biggest plays. If so, the Eagles’ chances received a boost with his return.

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“I think of myself as a play-maker,” Giovannettone said. “I want the ball and I want to make big plays.”

Just like big brother.


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