HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS : SOUTHERN SECTION DIVISION III : Newbury Park Offensive Scheme Not Just a Passing Fancy

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Throw caution and convention to the wind.

Throw passes by the passel to wind up unbeaten and playing for a championship.

That's the Newbury Park High story. Again.

Two years ago, everyone agreed that the athletic ability of quarterback Keith Smith and sure hands of receiver Leodes Van Buren were reasons the Panthers went 14-0.

This time, explanations are less obvious.

The curious want to know how those throws put foes through throes, frustrating the most ferocious linebackers and baffling the brightest safeties.

Answers are elusive, as Diamond Bar Coach Terry Roche discovered trying to prepare his team to face the Panthers for the Southern Section Division III title tonight at 7 at Moorpark College.

"It's the 3rd Airborne Division versus the Cub Scouts," Roche said, perhaps forgetting that his team also is 13-0.

"They stretch the defense from sideline to sideline and all the way to the goal line with their passing. And they can run the ball down your throat.

"How do you defend against all that?"

Chris Czernek, the Panthers' 5-foot-10 junior quarterback, has passed for more than 300 yards in 10 games and has 4,172 yards and 44 touchdowns. He needs only 73 yards to break Smith's state single-season record.

Receivers DaJuan Hawkins, Eddie Patterson, Patrick Reddick and Justin Vint each have more than 50 catches for more than 800 yards.

Brock Diediker, a 230-pound bulldozer who is the single-set back, has 859 rushing yards, averaging 7.0 yards a carry, and another 273 yards in 22 receptions. He has 15 touchdowns.

"We have a very fortunate combination," said George Hurley, the Newbury Park coach of seven years. "We have a system the coaches and kids believe in and we have the personnel to execute the system."

About That System

The Panthers' offense is home-grown, evolving gradually from a conventional balanced attack since Hurley became the head coach.

Chief architect is Gary Fabricius, the offensive coordinator whose title ought to be air traffic controller. However, he freely gives credit to a resource some coaches neglect to consult: the players.

"We are taking their advice; we respect their opinion," Fabricius said. "It started with Keith and Leodes. They felt ownership because we developed this thing together, beginning when they were sophomores [in 1991]."

The first move was to eliminate the tight end and employ three receivers along with two running backs. The next step was to place two wide receivers on each side of the ball and use only one running back. Finally came trips, putting three receivers to one side and a single receiver on the other.

All the while, Smith and other players suggested adjustments in formations and helped diagram plays. Now a freshman at Arizona, Smith even contributed to the Panther playbook this year, adding a play Fabricius named "Arizona."

Van Buren often encouraged Fabricius to use him as a decoy to free other receivers.

"They were totally unselfish," Fabricius said. "Now it's the same thing with Patterson, Vint and the rest of this group."

The system junks other cardinal rules of high school football. There is no place for the time-honored concept of providing the quarterback with maximum protection and sending out only two or three receivers.

With Smith at the helm, the system flourished. An adept scrambler blessed with a flair for the dramatic, he threw for a state-record 9,971 yards in three seasons. He had 87 career touchdown passes and rushed for 774 yards his senior year. Van Buren set state career marks with 269 receptions and 4,446 yards. A championship was won.

In the aftermath, a nagging question remained. Without Smith and Van Buren, would the system become just another fly-by-night operation?

"In '94, we looked in the mirror and decided to live or die with our system," Fabricius said.

Early last season the new quarterback, Vint, struggled, throwing interceptions and completing fewer than 40% of his passes. Not until Czernek took over at midseason and Vint moved to receiver did the offense begin to click again.

Newbury Park finished strong, making the playoffs with a 6-4 record. Coaches and players couldn't wait until '95.

About Those Players

Czernek's four receivers share key characteristics: They rarely drop a pass, they out-wrestle opponents for the ball, they run well after the catch.

Their attributes overlap, as Hurley points out to the point of confusion.

"Hawkins is the leaper, but Reddick and Patterson also jump well," he said. "Vint might be the toughest, but Patterson is so tough. Patterson is probably the fastest, but Hawkins and Reddick outrun guys. Reddick makes impossible catches, but then, they all do.

"Maybe Fab can explain it."

Fab is Fabricius, and he enjoys talking about his receivers almost as much as Czernek likes throwing to them.

A look at Fab's Four:

* DaJuan Hawkins: At 6-5 with long arms and longer strides, Hawkins, a senior, is master of the alley-oop catch. Colleges recognize his potential: He has recruiting trips scheduled to Arizona, Cal and San Diego State.

Hawkins has lived with the parents of Reddick, his cousin, since moving to Newbury Park from Carson two years ago. He never played football until last season, when he had only two catches.

"DaJuan is a delight to coach because he is so eager to learn," Fabricius said. "He soaks in the knowledge."

* Eddie Patterson: Strong, fast and smart, Patterson, a senior, is indefatigable. He also plays safety and returns kicks. In a three-play sequence of a playoff semifinal against Ayala, he chased a running back 50 yards to the goal line, returned the ensuing kickoff, then caught a pass on the Panthers' first offensive play.

"Patterson is the kid who will not let Newbury Park lose," said Rio Mesa Coach George Contreras, who has seen all three Panther playoff games. "He goes full throttle for 48 minutes as well as anyone I've ever seen."

* Justin Vint: The team reception leader, Vint also plays cornerback and is the punter. The senior is an outstanding possession receiver whom Czernek often finds on broken plays.

Because Vint played quarterback as a freshman, sophomore and half of last season, his suggestions are always heard by the coaches.

"Justin gives me advice from a quarterback's perspective," Fabricius said. "He thinks team first and knows our system inside and out."

* Patrick Reddick: The best hands and most-elusive moves belong to Reddick, king of the acrobatic catch.

Although only 5-10, Reddick, a junior, runs a fade route as well as taller receivers. His concentration might be his greatest asset.

The best four athletes play receiver, but without passing, blocking and an occasional running play, the Panther system would break down.

A look at the rest of the offense:

* Chris Czernek: The primary reason the receivers rarely drop the ball is the deft touch of Czernek. He throws an easy ball to catch, whether on a feathery fade pass or leading a receiver on a crossing route.

Czernek's other outstanding quality is vision. He throws interceptions only 2.9% of the time.

"Chris is, above all, smart," said Fabricius, noting the quarterback's 3.8 grade-point average. "Our offense is like taking a test on every play and he has three seconds to come up with the answer."

Czernek passes his tests in more ways than one.

* Brock Diediker: Opponents who double-team receivers run the risk of being bludgeoned by Diediker. The powerful senior rushed for more than 100 yards against Westlake last week and is particularly effective in short-yardage situations.

He also is a deterrent against blitzes, both as a blocker and receiver. One of the Panthers' most-effective plays against the blitz is the fullback middle screen.

* The line: Brant Diediker, Brock's twin, moved from receiver to guard early in the season, solidifying a youthful unit. Center Nick Zentil, also a defensive starter, is the only other senior.

Sophomore guard Chris Soury and junior tackles Brian Nelson and Jim Newton have matured rapidly under the direction of assistant Greg Mattes, a former Newbury Park player. Czernek has been sacked an average of only twice a game.

"They've developed great pass-blocking technique," Hurley said. "They have to stand there with guys coming at them every play and protect Chris. They've done a great job."

Mission Impossible?

Defenses have tried everything. They've blitzed, they've dropped off seven defenders in a zone, they've double-covered receivers.

Nothing has shut down Czernek because he is adept at recognizing defenses and calling audibles. He and the receivers communicate using hand signs at the line.

"We like to run the play we call in the huddle," Fabricius said, "but Chris is usually free to change the play based on what he sees."

The final element is cocking and firing the ball. The coaches thumb their noses at convention once again by telling Czernek, "When in doubt, throw it up."

"We used to tell Keith to tuck the ball and run when he was in trouble," Fabricius said, "but Chris has a knack for throwing it where defenders can't get it."

And where more often than not, a Panther can.

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