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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Reason Reason (September 04, 2002)to be hopeful

Ostrander's status among nation's elite has M-A excited

by Rick Chandler

It's the first day of school, and Martin Billings has been running around the Menlo-Atherton campus all day like an incoming freshman. There are papers to sign, eligibility forms to round up, meetings to attend. And all that is before football practice, when the real work begins for the Bears' head varsity coach.

But Billings no sooner sets foot on the practice field than T.C. Ostrander puts everything into perspective. The senior quarterback takes a practice snap, drops back and throws a bullet to a streaking receiver. And Billings must be thinking to himself: Does this guy really play for me?

There's electricity in the air at Menlo-Atherton these days, the kind that comes from great expectations. M-A has legitimate title hopes, and they begin with Ostrander, who has been rated as one of the top prep quarterbacks in the nation.

"T.C.'s been great, he's working really hard," said Billings, beginning his fourth season directing the Bears. "He's come a long way since his freshman season, when he broke his foot in his first game. He was just a little guy, 5-8 as a freshman, and now he's 6-3. He's ready to play, ready to have a great season."

The Ostrander hype is just beginning, so get used to it - this guy is legit. He won the Camp MVP award at the vaunted Nike Camp in Eugene, Ore., over the summer, which earned him an invitation to the Elite 11 Camp in San Juan Capistrano, possibly the most prestigious camp in high school football. Fourteen former Elite 11 quarterbacks are playing Division 1-A this fall, including Tennessee's Casey Clausen.

Ostrander's attributes are a strong, accurate arm, great decision-making skills and the quickest release in the business, or at least in the PAL Bay Division.

"The thing about T.C. is that he's a better person than he is a football player," said Billings. "He's had all this attention and all this press, but he doesn't think he's any better than anybody else. He's the leader, but he also fits in."

And it's that close relationship with his teammates that should have M-A challenging last year's division co-champs, Aragon and Terra Nova, for the title.

"One thing that makes T.C. so effective is his patience," said Billings. "There were so many times last year when he'd be in the pocket, and defensive players would be breathing down his neck, just hanging on his jersey. But he has that ability to wait until the last possible moment to get rid of the ball.

"So I asked him, how do you stay in the pocket so long, instead of running for your life? And he told me 'Coach, it's my faith in my offensive line.' "

It's one thing to have a blue-chip quarterback, but it's quite another to keep him from getting squashed. The guys on the line who will be charged with protecting Ostrander are guards Tevita Kofutua (6-3, 305) and Eric Peterson (6-1, 235), tackles Mark Peterson (6-1, 250) and Jorge Medrano (5-10, 220), and center Lindsey Sprehn (6-0, 205), the latter a senior who has been Ostrander's only center since their freshman year. Kofutua and Mark Peterson are also seniors.

Starting in the running back spots in Billings' veer offense will be returning starter Ronny Movete, a speedy 5-8, 200-pound senior, and Daniel Caravez (5-7, 165), another senior who saw considerable playing time last season. Junior Ithamar Solis (5-7, 160) and senior Josh Tuitupou (5-11, 250) should also see plenty of action.

Ostrander will be throwing to a cadre of seniors at the wideout positions, and he shouldn't have much trouble connecting - they're huge. Alex Hogue is 6-4, 195, Jeff Zechnich runs 6-3, 185, Jared Hess is 6-1, 190 and John Shelton is 6-3, 190.

But if M-A is to significantly improve on last season, when it finished 2-5 in the Bay Division and 4-5 overall, it will have to get things done defensively. Standouts should be returning starters Movete and Tuitupou at linebacker, Solis and Josh Aldridge (6-2, 180) at free safety and strong safety, respectively, and Caravez at cornerback.

At present the line looks like senior Dan Bobba (6-0, 195) at defensive end, senior Marshall Serkes (5-9, 250) at nose guard, junior Travis Mittelstadt (5-11, 230) and Kofutua at the tackles.

"After that we're still deciding," said Billings.

M-A has 18 seniors on its 38-man roster, a big difference from last season when it had only 11 seniors.

"We had a lot of juniors in key positions, and in close games they didn't have a lot of guys they could lean on," Billings said. "We lost a lot of close games, but we're more confident now. We have experience, and that's important. I'm really looking forward to it. It should be a lot of fun."

That experience will be all the more important this season because M-A plays its first three games on the road (vs. Pioneer, Mitty and South San Francisco). The Bears' home field is being fitted with a new synthetic grass playing surface, and won't be ready until their home opener on Friday, Oct. 4, at 3 p.m., which is also Coach Parks Day.

M-A opens at Pioneer on Saturday, Sept. 14 at 1:30 p.m.


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