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Firmly on the ground

Jeff Tully

BELLARMINE-JEFFERSON HIGH -- Bellarmine-Jefferson High football

player Derek Leiphardt doesn’t mind putting pressure on himself.

This season, the junior running back has set some lofty goals.

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Along with wanting to gain 1,500 yards, Leiphardt also hopes to

average three touchdowns a game for the Guards.

Although personal accomplishments are paramount for the 5-foot-8,

170-pound speedster in his progression as a player, there is

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something more important he hopes to accomplish.

“I just want to help bring a little respect to the Bell-Jeff

program,” Leiphardt said. “For so long, Bell-Jeff has just been the

little school in the city and a lot of people have never paid us much

attention.

“I’m hoping that we can have a good season, and maybe we will be

recognized for our accomplishments, in the city, and in the CIF

[Southern Section].”

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In just three games, Leiphardt is on track to meet -- and even

exceed -- his goals. Also, he is helping put Bell-Jeff on the map in

the high school football community.

Leiphardt has churned out 660 yards in 27 carries -- a 24.4

yards-per-carry average -- and has 11 total touchdowns.

The remarkable thing about Leiphardt’s numbers is that he has

accomplished them in what amounts to about eight quarters -- or two

games. The Guards have had big leads in all of their games, and the

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running back has spent most the third and fourth quarters cooling his

jets on the bench.

“It is kind of frustrating to sit out when you’re having a good

game,” Leiphardt said. “But I can understand why I’m not in there.

I’m just happy that when I’m taken out, it gives an opportunity for

other players to play.”

Bell-Jeff Coach Rolando Aguirre said Leiphardt’s desire to stay in

games has nothing to do with him trying to pad his stats.

“Derek is just a competitor,” Aguirre said. “We wants to be in

there doing all he can for the team.

“I know it irks him when I take him out, but I know he understands

why he is on the bench.”

In Saturday’s 55-18 nonleague win against Claremont Webb,

Leiphardt spent most of the fourth quarter on the sideline after

rushing for 242 yards in 11 carries and three touchdowns. He had

scoring runs of 72, 28 and 70 yards.

Leiphardt’s exploits have helped the Guards jump out to their best

season in decades. Not only does Bell-Jeff have a 3-0 record, but it

has devastated opponents with a juggernaut of an offense that

features senior quarterback Brendon Doyle and junior running backs

Adrian Anetema, Joey Diaz and Matt Magallon

Bell-Jeff has racked up 152 points and is averaging 50.6 points a

game.

The team’s success is getting noticed, as the Guards are ranked

No. 7 CIF Southern Section Division XII.

*

With a refreshing modesty and a desire to share his success,

Leiphardt doesn’t see himself as a star player. Instead, he likes to

think he is just one piece of a big puzzle that fits together just

right.

“I couldn’t have the success that I have without the help of my

line,” he said. “They are the ones out there blocking for me and

doing all of the hard work. They do such a good job at opening the

holes, I just have to follow behind them and do what I’m supposed to

do.”

The Bell-Jeff offensive line might appear to be Leiphardt’s

personal battering ram. Some pretty hefty divides have been opened up

by a beefy front that includes Brian Alfaro (6-4, 275), Robert

Alarcon (6-2, 285) and Alex Khachatoorian (6-2, 235).

“With those big guys out in front of me, I wonder if the other

team even sees me some times,” Leiphardt said.

To thank his linemen, Leiphardt says he regularly pays them off in

pizzas, knowing he has to keep his protectors happy.

Success as a running back didn’t just magically come about this

season for Leiphardt. He also put up impressive numbers in 2002 as a

sophomore, running for 760 yards in 83 carries for 10 touchdowns.

Leiphardt also got a unique and rare opportunity as a freshman,

when he was brought up to the varsity team midway through the season.

With CIF rules making it difficult for freshmen to play on the

varsity level, Aguirre said he had to submit special documentation

that had to be approved before Leiphardt was cleared to make the

jump.

“I was brought up because [Brendon Doyle] got injured his

sophomore season and they needed a backup quarterback,” said

Leiphardt, who was the junior-varsity quarterback at the time.

“I was pretty scared when I played my first game. But I was just

happy to be there.”

Seeing time as a ninth-grader, against players who were much

bigger -- and some who were three years older -- Leiphardt got a

quick, hard-knock education in high school football.

However, in a Santa Fe League game against L.A. Daniel Murphy,

Leiphardt gave the Bell-Jeff faithful a glimpse of what was to come,

when he caught three passes for 111 yards and scored a 53-yard

touchdown.

“I think being up as a freshman has helped Derek a lot,” Aguirre

said. “He has a lot more confidence than the average player because

he’s been here and he knows what to expect. He really thinks and acts

like a senior.”

*

At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Leiphardt and the Guards will try to make

it four in a row when they play in a nonleague game at Yermo Silver

Valley.

Silver Valley (0-2) has a suspect defense that is vulnerable to

the run. That could spell another big night for Leiphardt.

If the Guards keep rolling, there is a good chance they could have

a 6-0 record when they open league play Oct 18 against Daniel Murphy.

It is league competition that Leiphardt said the Guards are looking

forward to.

“One of our goals this season is to win league,” he said. “That is

something all of us are working hard to accomplish.

“Other than that, we just hope to go and play [well] in the

playoffs. Hopefully, we can win some games in the playoffs.”

Winning a few playoff games is probably going to be easier than

trying to nail down a Santa Fe League championship. That’s because

the league’s best team is also one of the premier programs in

Division XII -- Montebello Cantwell-Sacred Heart.

The Cardinals are 0-3, but they have lost to excellent

competition: Fountain Valley (plays in the Division I Sunset League),

27-18, L.A. Cathedral (No. 4 in Division X), 34-27, and Simi Valley

Grace Brethren (No. 2 in Division XIII), 26-13.

However, despite the challenge Cantwell will pose, Leiphardt likes

his team’s chances for a league title.

“We just have to go out there and play well. If we do, I know we

have a chance, and we can win the championship,” he said.

That’s a pretty big goal. But setting high aspirations is nothing

new for Leiphardt.


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