Cham­i­nade at­tack is grounded

Go­ing against the trend, Ea­gles ex­cel in power rush­ing game with Van Buren.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - ERIC SONDHEIMER ON HIGH SCHOOLS eric.sondheimer@la­times.com Twit­ter: @lat­sond­heimer

Smash­mouth foot­ball has pretty much dis­ap­peared in the era of spread of­fenses and pass­ing 50 times a game, but the abil­ity to run the foot­ball is still a re­quire­ment to win a cham­pi­onship at the high­est level.

As the South­ern Sec­tion be­gins its Di­vi­sion 1 play­offs Fri­day night, one of the most in­trigu­ing teams is No. 4-seeded West Hills Cham­i­nade, which has an ex­pe­ri­enced of­fen­sive line and one of the best run­ning backs in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia in se­nior An­drew Van Buren.

When the go­ing gets tough, the Ea­gles switch to their power-pitch play, where ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing the quar­ter­back, blocks for Van Buren. He rushed for 332 yards and five touch­downs against Gar­dena Serra last month.

It was as if the Ea­gles were dar­ing Serra to stop the play. Ev­ery­one knew it was com­ing, but the Cava­liers felt help­less.

“He breaks arm tack­les,” Cham­i­nade coach Ed Cro­son said.

“I told the guys, ‘There’s no team that should stop us in­side the red zone, es­pe­cially with the power pitch,’ ” Van Buren said.

A good Or­ange Lutheran team trav­els to West Hills to face the Ea­gles in a Di­vi­sion 1 opener Fri­day, and deal­ing with Van Buren will be a ma­jor chal­lenge.

“Peo­ple missed him,” Cro­son said. “He’s big. He gets away from guys.”

Van Buren, 6 feet 1 and 215 pounds, had been over­shad­owed for two years while shar­ing run­ning back du­ties with stand­out T.J. Pledger, who left for Florida IMG Academy af­ter last sea­son. This year, Van Buren has rushed for 1,219 yards and scored 21 touch­downs.

He al­ways be­lieved in his abil­ity, even when he and Pledger showed up to­gether as fresh­men.

“Wher­ever you go, high school, col­lege, NFL, you have to com­pete,” he said. “I was go­ing to come here whether T.J. came or not. We’re re­ally good friends, and I knew he’d make me bet­ter and I’d make him bet­ter. At the end of the day, it worked out for both of us.

“I knew since day one what I was ca­pa­ble of. Now it’s just time for me to show oth­ers my abil­i­ties. I al­ways have to thank the guys up front. With­out them, noth­ing is pos­si­ble.”

The Di­vi­sion 1 play­offs aren’t about fi­nesse. This is big-boy foot­ball, and the bat­tle in the trenches means ev­ery­thing. Cham­i­nade’s out­stand­ing of­fen­sive line, led by tackle Dy­lan Kel­logg, can be ef­fec­tive. And ju­nior quar­ter­back Ryan Stevens can’t be over­looked, es­pe­cially hav­ing Stan­ford­bound re­ceiver Michael Wil­son as an op­tion.

The Ea­gles are 9-1, with their only blem­ish a 31-17 set­back to Bellflower St. John Bosco. Cham­i­nade has ex­pe­ri­ence against top teams the last two sea­sons, elim­i­nated by Corona Cen­ten­nial each time.

“The pre­vi­ous years we’ve lost to Cen­ten­nial,” Van Buren said, “we never played a high-qual­ity team like them in the pre­sea­son. This year we played St. John Bosco. I think we learned a lot from them. This goaround, we know things to fix to play big teams in the Trin­ity League.”

Per­haps the only peo­ple more ex­cited than Cham­i­nade fans about Van Buren are fans from Boise State, the school that Van Buren has been com­mit­ted to for months.

“Boise State was my first offer,” he said. “They’ve been talk­ing to me since sopho­more year and they be­lieved in me even when I wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily play­ing run­ning back a lot. They still be­lieved I had the abil­i­ties to do the things I’m do­ing now. Their loy­alty, their coach­ing staff and even the play­ers, it’s a great fit for me.”

Pa­tri­cia Fer­nan­dez Cham­i­nade High School

AN­DREW VAN BUREN has rushed for 1,219 yards for Cham­i­nade this sea­son and will go to Boise State.

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