George Tapia doesn't have to worry about being the focus of opponents' game plans this season. At least not at the start.
Despite a strong 1997 season and an eye-opening performance last spring at the Ventura County Football Coaches' Assn. combine, Tapia, a senior linebacker and defensive lineman for Hueneme High, fails to register on the radar of coaches.
An informal poll of six Ventura County coaches turned up four who could not recall anything specific about Tapia's play, and two who could not identify his school.
Obviously, introductions are in order.
Tapia is a 6-foot-1, 240-pound wrecking ball who Hueneme Coach Larry Miller expects to leave his imprint on the region.
"When he hits, he tries to go through the ballcarrier," Miller said. "He just shrugs off blockers."
A defensive lineman last season, Tapia will also play outside linebacker. He intends to make a name for himself and a Hueneme program that is 14-56 in the last seven seasons.
"If [Tapia] was at Westlake or somewhere, he would be more touted," Miller said. "Hueneme hasn't been a major stop [for college recruiters] and the only way to get them to stop is to consistently give them something worth stopping for."
Tapia said he has received recruiting letters from numerous Division I schools. He plans to take the SAT for the first time later this month.
Tapia earned second-team All-Channel League honors last season, and further impressed coaches by bench-pressing 185 pounds 28 times at the county combine in May. Rio Mesa Coach George Contreras, who administers the event, said he believes Tapia's effort is the best in its four-year history.
Tapia began to work on his strength after his sophomore year.
"I weighed 240 when I was a freshman and sophomore, but it was mostly blubber," Tapia said. "I decided if I wanted to get to college [football], I had to get my act together."
Soon, Miller had to chase Tapia out of the weight room. Giving up, the coach allowed the player to stay late and lock up.
"At that point, I knew this kid was going to be something special before he left us," Miller said.
Contreras said Tapia's best 40-yard dash time at the combine was 5.0 seconds, which the coach called decent for a lineman and slow for a linebacker.
Tapia also had average marks in the shuttle run and vertical leap, but there is little doubt he will be a leader on a Hueneme team expected to shine.
"Mean dogs bite as pups," Contreras said. "And when [Hueneme's seniors] were freshmen and sophomores, they kicked the snot out of everybody. Based on that, they should do very well this year. If they can handle their schedule."
That's the rub for the Vikings, who host improved Alemany in their opener Sept. 11 before playing San Diego Montgomery, Hawthorne, Atascadero and Muir in preparation for games in the first-year Pacific View League.
Hueneme's seniors posted 9-1 records at the freshman and junior varsity levels before joining the varsity last season and finishing 5-5.
The Vikings return quarterback Jeff Garcia, who threw for 731 yards, six touchdowns and had six passes intercepted while platooning last season.
Leading rusher Donald Thompson, who ran for 750 yards and seven touchdowns, also is back.
Tapia, who plays on the offensive line in addition to his defensive duties, believes this is the year that Hueneme becomes one of the region's better teams.
The Vikings finished fifth in the eight-team Channel League last year.
"Other teams might be bigger, but they've also got bigger heads," Tapia said.
"Most teams, they just see us the same way they always do, like we [stink]. But we're going to show them."
Seventh in a nine-part series. Today:
Linebackers: George Tapia of Hueneme
Aug. 27: Quarterbacks. Kyle Boller of Hart
Aug. 28: Running Backs. Manuel White of Valencia
Aug. 29: Tight Ends. Mike Seidman of Westlake
Aug. 30: Wide Receivers. Jerry Owens of Hart.
Sept. 2: Offensive lineman: Tony Sanchez of Sylmar
Sept. 3: Defensive lineman. Carl Cannon of Taft
Saturday: Defensive backs. Corey Neal of Sylmar
Sunday: Kickers. Jason Geisler of Camarillo