Calhoun Reversed His Field : Football: Ticketed for the secondary at Canyon, he’s become Valencia’s first marquee back.
Five minutes into Valencia High’s first football practice, Coach Brian Stiman made a decision he would not regret: Donavan Calhoun, formerly a defensive back at Canyon, would be a running back. No discussion required.
“It wouldn’t take a brain surgeon to know that you had to get the ball into that kid’s hands,” said Stiman, formerly a Canyon assistant. “Several coaches from Canyon said, ‘You’re making a mistake. He doesn’t have the innate abilities for running back.’ They said he did this wrong and that wrong before he’d ever played.”
Two seasons later, no one questions what Calhoun can do, only why he is doing it at Valencia.
The 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior has rushed for 1,240 yards and 16 touchdowns in 181 carries for the Vikings, a first-year varsity squad consisting of juniors and sophomores.
Valencia (2-7) plays its final game as a free-lance team tonight against St. Anthony at Clark Field in Long Beach. Next season the Vikings will be a member of the Foothill League.
Open enrollment would allow Calhoun to play for Hart, Canyon or Saugus, the Santa Clarita Valley’s high-profile programs.
Instead he opted for what he considered a better opportunity.
A free safety on the Canyon freshman team in 1993, Calhoun wanted the ball.
“I was living closer to Canyon but I really wanted to play running back and I knew I would get a chance at Valencia,” said Calhoun, who lives in Valencia’s attendance area. “At Canyon they had their running back [Monte McKeon] and I don’t think they were going to give anyone else a chance.”
Canyon Coach Larry Mohr, a varsity assistant when Calhoun was a Cowboy, said no one told Calhoun he would not have a chance at running back. Mohr said Calhoun likely would have been a starting varsity defensive back as a sophomore.
“If he had come and talked to me I would have told him he could have had a shot at running back,” Mohr said. “He’s very athletic and he’s definitely being talked about in the community, but I think people want to wait and judge him on a 10-week schedule against tougher competition.”
Hart Coach Mike Herrington expects Calhoun to be an impact player next season when Valencia enters the Foothill League.
“He’s done some great things and he’s going to be something to reckon with as a senior,” Herrington said. “We’re not going to enjoy trying to defend him.”
Last season Calhoun rushed for 1,391 yards and 17 touchdowns for the junior varsity. Varsity competition hasn’t slowed him a bit. Calhoun has scored 106 of Valencia’s 191 points.
Calhoun’s top performances are a 253-yard, four-touchdown game against Bishop and a 164-yard, five-touchdown effort against Burroughs.
Tall and sinewy, Calhoun looks more like a sprinter than a running back and his speed and leaping ability are worthy of the track. However, Valencia’s undersized line has given Calhoun plenty of opportunity to prove his toughness and he has taken more than his fair share of hard hits while rushing for more than 100 yards in all but one of the Vikings’ games.
“He’s the best athlete I’ve ever coached at running back,” Stiman said. “The most impressive thing is his acceleration. He has such long legs and he covers ground so quickly that before teams know it he’s behind the secondary or outside the corner.”
In Valencia’s victory over Burbank, Calhoun dived over a defender at the three-yard line, flipped in the air and landed on his cleats in the end zone.
“Twenty-four feet from takeoff to landing,” Stiman said. “But you know, no one on our sideline was that shocked. He does things like that every now and then.”
Calhoun did not play organized sports until he entered high school because his father, Mike, a single parent, did not want his son to feel different from teammates with two parents and believed Donavan’s body was not fully developed.
“I figured it was good enough that we spent quality time playing together,” said his father, Mike, a single parent, a 1970 Canyon graduate, and a campus supervisor for the William S. Hart school district.
“On a team, I wouldn’t be there for him and I didn’t want people to ask, ‘Where’s your dad?’ I felt he really didn’t need the questions.”
Donavan said he wanted to play on a team, but understood his father’s concerns.
“When I was young I was real bony but now I got some meat on my body from being in the weight room and he doesn’t worry anymore,” he said.
Despite Valencia’s struggles, Calhoun said, he does not regret his choice of school.
“Right now we’re not doing that well but I believe we’ll be ready next year,” he said. “We’ve really picked it up from the start of the season.”
Calhoun said he will return to Valencia for his senior year. Others tell him he would be better off at another school.
“People have asked me why I don’t go somewhere else. I’ve heard that coaches have told other people to tell me I’d be welcome at their school and people from Canyon have called me a traitor,” Calhoun said.
Mike Calhoun reminds his son that no one cared which school he attended a few years ago.
“I tell him, ‘Back then they didn’t look at you that way but now they know what you’re doing and what you could be doing for them,’ ” Mike said.