From Comic to Straight Man


Joe Nargi Jr., a 6-foot-6 1/2 hulk who doubles as an opposite hitter on the Taft High boys' volleyball team, used to work in a toy store.

Anyone who doubts it needs only look at the Fozzie Bear and Yosemite Sam candy dispensers on a shelf in his bedroom.

But not everything about Nargi, who eats chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream for breakfast, is fun and games.

This month has been very serious for Nargi, who messed around academically as a freshman and as a sophomore and, as a result, has been lightly recruited by colleges despite being one of the top 25 high school players in the nation.

"I regret those [years] big-time," Nargi said. "I don't know what was going on in my head. I was lazy. I was concentrating too much on sports and not on being a student-athlete. It was pretty stupid, I guess."

USC showed some interest in Nargi, but backed off a month ago. The Trojans' loss was Cal State Northridge's gain.

Nargi committed to Northridge last week after a home visit by Coach Jeff Campbell sold Nargi on the Matadors.

"He wants to keep a championship here in the Valley instead of the championship always going to the Westside," Nargi said. "I was going to go to Pierce and transfer to another college, but I'm glad CSUN came around. I'd rather play there than play at a junior college for two years and then play at another college for two years."

In Nargi, the Matadors will be getting the premier player in the City Section.

Taft has not advanced far during the City Section playoffs in recent years, but has the ability to measure up to the 1990 Toreadors, who won the City 4-A championship.

Two years ago, Nargi borrowed from Taft Coach Doug Magorien a video tape of the title-match victory against Chatsworth.

Nargi didn't watch the entire five-game match--"too long"--but he did see the celebration at the end, something that has inspired him this season.

"I think we have the ability to go all the way," Nargi said. "I think we have a great chance to make it."

The story of Nargi's introduction to volleyball is almost humorous.

Magorien saw Nargi playing basketball as a freshman and approached him many times about playing volleyball, only to be rebuffed time and again.

"I had no ambitions to play volleyball, none whatsoever," Nargi said.

Finally, Magorien enlisted the aid of basketball Coach Mark Drucker, who helped convince Nargi that volleyball would be a good off-season sport.

Nargi was a decent player on a so-so junior varsity team, but a year later pounded 24 kills in his first varsity match.

He was only a sophomore at the time, which, coincidentally, was also the last year Nargi's height was measured. He has been listed at 6-5 for years, a problem that was only recently remedied.

With the help of his mother, Beverly, his father, Joe Sr., and a tape measure, Joe Jr.'s height was found to be taller than believed.

His height and expectations continue to rise.

"We always told him to keep up his skills and keep up his grades," Joe Sr. said.

Added Beverly: "He had to do it on his own. We can't stand there with a whip all the time. We're just extremely proud of him."

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