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The Total Package

Times Staff Writer

The teacher was giving instructions, but Konrad Reuland barely digested a word. A perfectly normal reaction for most 14-year-olds experiencing their first physics lesson. However, Reuland was especially perplexed.

Because the teacher was speaking German.

Such no-win situations were exactly what Ralf and Mary Reuland anticipated when, four years ago, they sent their oldest son to live with relatives in Germany for eight months between his eighth- and ninth-grade school years.

Now a senior at Mission Viejo High who is considered among the nation’s top tight end prospects, Reuland never came to understand inertia during his visit to a small town 15 minutes outside Dusseldorf but was able to say auf Wiedersehen with a better understanding of the culture.

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“I’m really happy I did that,” he said. “When I first came back and my friends were a grade older than me, I was a little iffy about it, but it has been awesome.”

Mission Viejo Coach Bob Johnson said Reuland’s life experiences are evident in the way he communicates with adults and works incessantly to correct deficiencies. For example, Johnson appreciates that Reuland can be criticized one play and praised the next without ever changing expressions.

“He has a lot of confidence in himself,” Johnson said. “It’s like talking to an adult.”

At 6 feet 6, 240 pounds, Reuland also plays basketball for the Diablos and averaged 9.6 points and 9.1 rebounds last season. In three years playing high school athletics at Mission Viejo and Santa Ana Mater Dei, he has been on teams that have won three Southern Section titles and a state title.

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While it’s increasingly common for young athletes to repeat a grade or delay the start of kindergarten to give their bodies an extra year to develop, the Reulands said such considerations were never a factor when they sent their son to Europe.

“He was already way bigger and developed when he went there,” Mary said. “It was more for the cultural learning experience.”

Standing alongside Reuland, that’s easy to imagine. With his size, speed and sure hands, Reuland has college recruiters climbing over each other to hype their programs. In addition to his physical attributes, he’s also one of Mission Viejo’s best students. Athletic scholarships have been offered by programs such as USC, UCLA, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Miami (Fla.), Ohio State, California and Stanford.

Not bad for someone who started playing tackle football only two years ago.

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Reuland grew up playing basketball under the guidance of his father, a physician who specializes in sports medicine. Konrad towered over his junior basketball opponents at a young age, averaging more than 40 points. They began entering club tournaments and soon formed the Orange Coast Piranhas, an AAU team that became nationally recognized. Many of Reuland’s former teammates are now beginning their college football and basketball careers.

“It was quite a team of athletes,” said Ralf, who is 6-2. “They won everything.”

At the time, the Reulands weren’t sure if Konrad would top off at 6-2 himself, or stretch to as tall as 6-10. Although their first instinct was to play Konrad near the basket, Ralf also taught him ball-handling skills, something that has helped him in football.

“You can never go wrong with guard skills,” Ralf said, smiling.

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Born in Canada to German immigrants, Ralf played basketball at Fountain Valley High, where he and Mary graduated in 1979.

Konrad was born in his father’s first year of medical school and his brother, Warren, in the third. The idea that both should experience an extended stay in Germany to learn more about their heritage before they started high school was something that was planned early on.

Reuland said he thought his parents were joking when they first told him their plan in the fifth grade.

“But as it started getting closer and closer, and they brought it up more and more, it kind of became a reality,” he said.

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Mary also started having second thoughts. “I was OK with it until it was happening,” she said.

Konrad faced struggles in school from the time he first arrived in Germany. Fortunately, he didn’t have to fret over his grade-point average.

“They stuck me in eighth grade,” he said, “where I could just go and learn as much as I could and not worry about a report card.”

Some teachers understood his situation. Others rolled their eyes as he fell behind in subjects that also included geometry and chemistry.

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“There’s no way I could have passed those not knowing the language,” Reuland said.

Then, two weeks after arriving, Reuland watched the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks unfold after returning home from school.

“I kind of felt out of place and then all of this happened,” he said. “You almost didn’t feel safe out there.”

Mary wanted her son to return home, but Konrad insisted on staying.

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“I wanted to stick it out,” he said. “I was already there and I would have been getting a late start in school if I came back.”

The first month was the most difficult, but after that he started getting a grip on the language. An English class turned out to be his most useful learning tool.

“What they were learning in English, I was learning in German,” he said. “It worked out well that way.”

He returned fluent in the language and with a new appreciation of the German people and their culture. The experience also helped him grow internally.

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“When I came back, I was a totally different person than when I went,” he said. “It has helped me a lot, and through my high school years, with the decisions I’ve had to make.”

Reuland started his high school years at Mater Dei, and as a 6-4 freshman, he backed up senior standouts D.J. Strawberry and Harrison Schaen in their run to Southern Section and state titles in 2003.

Ever since Reuland can remember, he had an equal infatuation with football, but he was always too big to compete against boys his age in youth leagues, where players are grouped by size.

Ralf, who in his profession has seen some severe football injuries, wasn’t eager to see him in pads but gave the OK when Konrad turned 16 in the spring of his freshman year.

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Then came his transfer to Mission Viejo. “At a place like Mater Dei, it’s frowned upon almost [to play two sports],” Konrad said.

Marty Spaulding, the former offensive line coach for Mission Viejo who retired after last season, was an added bonus. Reuland didn’t know his reputation at the time, but he now credits Spaulding with teaching him the skills he needed most -- the ability to drive and block opponents.

“He definitely brought me a long way,” said Reuland, who caught 47 passes for 744 yards and seven touchdowns last season, earning Division II second-team honors.

Even with Spaulding retired and two-year starting quarterback Mark Sanchez now at USC, Reuland still figures to benefit from the play-calling of Johnson and his son, Bret, the offensive coordinator.

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Chane Moline, a 240-pound running back who rushed for 1,872 yards and scored 40 touchdowns last season, also returns. Together, they should keep defenses on their heels.

“You can’t stop Konrad and Chane,” Bret Johnson said. “It’s absolutely impossible.”

Sort of like trying to learn physics in German.

*

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Football preview

High school teams from the Southland open a 10-game regular season over the next two weeks. Some fast facts to start:

* First game: Santa Margarita opened Friday night with a 26-0 victory at Kailua-Kona (Hawaii) Kealakehe.

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* Marquee matchup: Long Beach Poly, the defending Southern Section Division I champion, plays Sept. 16 at Bellevue (Wash.), the reigning four-time Class 3A state champion that stopped Concord De La Salle’s national-record winning streak at 151 games last year.

* Marquee matchup II: Defending Division II champion Mission Viejo plays Sept. 5 against Issaquah (Wash.) at Qwest Field in Seattle.

* City preview: Woodland Hills Taft opens the season Sept. 8 vs. Crenshaw at Canoga Park and then travels to Carson on Sept. 16. Two other top City games are Sept. 9 -- Carson at Venice and Dorsey vs. Harbor City Narbonne at Rancho Cienega Park.

* Mixing it up: Lake Balboa Birmingham, the defending City champion, will open the season with intersectional games against defending Division III champion Sherman Oaks Notre Dame (Sept. 9) and Division II contender Valencia (Sept. 16).

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* First round of playoffs: Nov. 18-20.

* Section finals: Dec. 9-10.

--

How they rate

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A look at the top tight ends in the Southland:

CITY SECTION

Rk, Player, School: 1. Joey Padilla, San Pedro

Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-3, 195, Sr

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Comment: Averaged over 30 yards a catch

*

Rk, Player, School: 2. Corey Jones, Fremont

Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-2, 205, Sr.

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Comment: Can run, catch, block

*

Rk, Player, School: 3. Monte Taylor, Washington

Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 220, Sr.

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Comment: Best player on team

**

SOUTHERN SECTION

Rk, Player, School: 1. Konrad Reuland, Mission Viejo

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-6, 240, Sr.

Comment: A man among boys

*

Rk, Player, School: 2. John Reese, Upland

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 220, Sr.

Comment: A rising college prospect

*

Rk, Player, School: 3. Howard Croom, LB Wilson

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 235, Sr.

Comment: Committed to Oregon State

*

Rk, Player, School: 4. Tommy Gallarda, Brea

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-5, 215, Sr.

Comment: Made 23 receptions

*

Rk, Player, School: 5. Trevor Mooney, Trabuco Hills

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-6, 235, Sr.

Comment: Can be offensive weapon

*

Rk, Player, School: 6. Matt Carrillo, St. Paul

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 255, Sr.

Comment: Big, powerful, tough

*

Rk, Player, School: 7. Christoff Neuman, Santa Monica

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-3, 215, Sr.

Comment: Will catch tough passes

*

Rk, Player, School: 8. Brian Slover, South Hills

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-3, 215, Sr.

Comment: Ready for big season

*

Rk, Player, School: 9. Keith Castillo, Mater Dei

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 225, Sr.

Comment: Two-sport standout

*

Rk, Player, School: 10. Blake Ayles, Orange Lutheran

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-4, 210, So.

Comment: Watch him mature

*

Rk, Player, School: 11. Colin Franklin, Simi Valley

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-5, 225, Sr.

Comment: Sleeper prospect with good hands

*

Rk, Player, School: 12. Bo Bramel, Santa Barbara

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Ht. Wt., Yr.: 6-1, 235, Sr.

Comment: Impressive in summer tournaments

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Compiled by Eric Sondheimer

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