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The Bow and Arrow of the Hunters PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Terry   
Thursday, 06 September 2012 03:00

A Transfer At Quarterback And An Emerging Running Back Has A Young Canoga Park Team Looking Sharp Early

MIKE TERRY/SFVS

Off And Running -- Quarterback Alex Dion (left) and running back Semaj Miller are providing an unexpected lift to the Canoga Park football team, which is off to a 2-0 start.

An 8-5 record and a run to the Division II semifinals made the 2011 season a pleasant surprise for Canoga Park after missing the Los Angeles City Section playoffs the year before. The 2012 season, however, was initially shrouded in uncertainty. The Hunters would definitely be rebuilding with only a handful of returning players. Two of the biggest questions were on the offensive side – could they find a quarterback and an explosive running back. So far the answers are yes and yes. Which is one reason why Canoga Park has gotten off to a 2-0 start, with wins against Los Angeles Jefferson and Hollywood, and now goes into its Sept. 7 road game against Los Angeles Fairfax with confidence and the belief this season may not have to be a long, painful grind.

At quarterback is Alex Dion, a senior who transferred here from Del Norte High in San Diego. He had a solid junior season in 2011, passing for 1,479 yards and 15 touchdowns with only six interceptions. But now he's become a Valley guy.

"My mom and dad wanted to expand their accounting firm," Dion said. "So we moved up here, and they enrolled me into Canoga Park."

The other delight is the emergence of Semaj Miller, a 16- year-old junior, at running back. At 5-feet-8 and 170- pounds, his game is one of quickness and elusiveness rather than power. That was very evident against Hollywood on Aug. 30, as Miller evaded tacklers for 175 yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries.

"It's mostly vision," said Miller, on his running style.

"You have to see the holes, then have the speed to run through them. And, of course you have to fend off the guys coming toward you…I think I have a combination of quickness and being fast."

Together they are giving Canoga Park an unexpected lift. Dion is the bow, the one who triggers the offense. And Miller has been the biggest arrow in the Hunters' quiver. All of which has Coach Ivan Moreno excited about the Hunters' play – but not too excited.

"It feels great, especially because this is a young team," Moreno said "There are some new kids on the team, (some coming from last year's 10-0 JV squad); the offensive and defensive line have, I think, one guy that got playing time and that was on the defensive side – so everyone's new.

"We really focused this summer on working hard with these kids. We didn't do a lot of passing league; instead we were here every day, working on fundamentals. So it feels good to be 2- 0, but [Fairfax] will be a very good test."

No one is newer than Dion. At 6-feet-3 and 190-pounds, he has the size and arm that make coaches salivate. And so far, Dion – who has completed 14 of 25 pass attempts for 358 yards and five touchdowns (with no interceptions) – is running the offense like he's been in three years rather than one summer.

"He just showed up," Moreno said. "And the nice thing about it, he's a level-headed person. I think that is a very overlooked thing for a quarterback. We had a player last year who by all accounts had every single tool you'd want. But the tool he lacked was steadiness and composure that I think you need in a quarterback."

Dion, who will turn 17 on Sept. 13, earned the starting job in the summer. But he said he felt fully accepted by his teammates after the win against Jefferson.

"I don't think there was any hostility toward me in the summer, but I think they really saw what kind of player I am after that first game," Dion said. "I had to win the job, it wasn't handed to me."

He said the coaches put "a good amount" of responsibility for the game on his shoulders. "And I accept that 100 percent.

Most people see the quarterback as a leader of the team, and I embrace that. They give me a lot of responsibility, and also a lot of freedom. When I make a mistake it's big; but they also trust me, that I won't make that many mistakes."

Miller had to earn a starting position, too. He was brought up last season from junior varsity, but most of the playing time went to Anthony Bell, a senior, and Khyree Morgan a junior.

Miller only got into two games, carrying the ball seven times for 52 yards and a touchdown. Moreno said he blames himself for essentially "burning" Miller's sophomore year. But if Miller had any leftover frustrations, he's letting them out on the field. Even with Morgan back this season, Miller has cemented a central role in the offense, having already rushed for 299 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.

"He's dynamic," Moreno said of Miller. "Sometimes his cuts are ridiculous. It's really nice that he has come along. He's a real quiet kid, but he works really hard. He's a player to watch.

"Last year we had seniors playing, and he had a hard time fitting into the offense. This year he really dedicated himself, and he's doing really well. We hope he'll get bigger; his father's a big person so we hope he'll get bigger. He is good now, if he grows a little bit more by next season I think he'll be spectacular."

For his part, Miller only seemed interested in how Canoga Park can keep progressing. When asked about the two wins, he replied, "It means we have a good chance of making it to the playoffs, that we've gotten off to a good start. And against our next opponent we have to keep the good start.

"We have to sustain our focus, mentally and physically prepare for the game [with Fairfax]. Hopefully our line blocks well, everyone's moving at full speed, and we have a good game."

One of the biggest obstacles for Canoga Park is a lack of depth. Moreno said the Hunters might be able to add some other transfer players starting Oct. 1, but staying healthy is important to any chance to win the Valley Mission League, and success in the playoffs.

Moreno said he would also continue to stress to his players the kinds of life lessons football can teach.

"I remind the kids that what matters at the end is this week, not what the paper says," he said. "One of the main things you have to work on as a coach is to make sure the kids understand it's a team concept.

"You look at this generation, the way things are, is there's a lot of 'now' and 'me.' They have to learn in football that it takes long time to work at something, a craft, to be good at it.

Sometimes you don't get immediate results. And the focus is on the team, not 'me.' That's one of the wonderful things about this game."

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Last Updated on Thursday, 06 September 2012 03:04