Just Preps : Too Valuable to Sit, He's Two-Way

Even if a football coach doesn't believe in two-way players, he can be swayed to make an exception.

Riverside North Coach Mark Paredes found himself in such a situation last year when he was hired to rebuild the school's program. He inherited a team that finished 4-6 and won only one league game in 1993.

Paredes found it difficult to keep Chris Claiborne on the bench for half a game. Claiborne has started at linebacker for three seasons and played some at fullback during his sophomore and junior seasons.

When North's tailback, Mike Felder, suffered a sprained ankle during practice last summer, Claiborne, who is 6 feet 4 and 230 pounds, was asked to step in. From his first carry, he seemed a natural.

"Ideally, you want to have 11 different players on offense, defense and special teams," said Paredes, who coached at La Puente Bishop Amat before North. "But that's not very realistic on the high school level. When you have a guy who can play the whole game and still be better in the fourth quarter than somebody on the bench, it's hard not to keep him in there."

Claiborne seldom comes off the field and is a major reason North is 13-0 and preparing to take on Ivy League rival Rubidoux for the Southern Section Division IV title Friday night at the University of Redlands. In a 29-25 victory over Rubidoux earlier this season, Claiborne rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown, caught two passes for touchdowns and returned a fumble 57 yards for another score.

With 90 tackles and three sacks, Claiborne is considered one of the area's most talented linebackers and plans to play the position in college. But his rushing numbers have also drawn the attention of a few recruiters.

Despite limited experience running the ball, Claiborne has 1,946 yards in 236 carries (8.2 yards a carry) and leads Riverside County in scoring with 35 touchdowns. He had 177 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-21 victory over Corona Centennial in a semifinal game Friday night.

Claiborne is also North's punter, averaging 35 yards.

The added duties aren't easy, and Claiborne has to spend extra time conditioning. He tries to go to UC Riverside once a week and run the stadium stairs.

"I'm enjoying scoring touchdowns and being in a position to have a real impact on the team," said Claiborne, whose older brother Adrian is a defensive back at Fresno State. "I plan to be a linebacker in college, but now I have a better idea what the running back is thinking and that should help me out on defense."

Claiborne is also a starting forward on the basketball team, which won the Division II-AA title last season. He had to split his time between the sports over the summer, and said he shoots 500 baskets every Saturday to stay sharp.

After playing on Friday, Claiborne leaves the next morning on a recruiting trip to Washington State.

He starts basketball practice Monday.

"There's never any time to rest," he said. "It's just one thing after another. And I'm grateful for that. I'm enjoying all of this."

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