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Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Ventura RB finds opening to Cornell

By Tim Haddock

The Ventura football team does not have a pipeline to USC, Texas or LSU. The team’s top recruit is being sought after by Utah. Some of the best players on the team will not have a football future beyond high school.

But it looks like a couple of the Ventura football players are creating a Cornell connection and coach Brad Steward couldn’t be happier.

Running back Conner Armstrong made a verbal commitment to Cornell University last week. Hunter Winans might be following his teammate to the New York campus and the Ivy League, Steward said. The Ventura coach is counting on his heady players to lead his team in the CIF Southern Section Western Division playoffs.

Ventura, the fourth-seeded team in the Western Division, opens playoffs against Dominguez on Friday night at Ventura High School. The Cougars, ranked No. 25 in the ESPN Los Angeles high school football poll, are 10-0 entering playoffs and won the Channel League championship for the first time in five years.

Armstrong leads the team in rushing with 1,264 yards and touchdowns with 20. He is a generous 5-foot-7, 170-pound running back who has been carrying the football since his first years in Pop Warner. Armstrong is not going intimidate any team with his size, but his heart and his vision have carried Ventura through an unblemished season so far.

“He is on the small side, so he hides behind those linemen and then darts into openings,” Steward said. “He’s one of the best running backs we’ve had here in a long, long time.”

He has six 100-yard rushing games this season. He rushed for 266 and two touchdowns against Santa Barbara three weeks ago.

“His mom’s father was a football coach,” Steward said. “Football has been important to their family his whole life. He played tailback in youth football. He’s just had a million reps just running the ball. He’s just got great instincts, great vision. I think it’s from all those reps he got throughout the years. People don’t really get a good lick on him.”

Every year, Ventura High School selects a senior scholar athlete who demonstrates strong character. Armstrong’s name came up when he was a junior, Steward said.

“When we were voting on that last year, everybody said can we just vote for next year’s right now,” he said. “That’s just the character, the leadership that the kid’s got. He’s just an awesome kid.”

Winans, Ventura’s leading receiver with 51 catches for 692 yards and five touchdowns, attended a football camp at Cornell over the summer. Steward said the Cornell coaches were impressed with Winans as well.

“He went to their camp and they said he was by far the best receiver at their camp,” Steward said.

Dominguez (7-3) is a tough first round matchup for Ventura. The Dons finished in a three-way tie for first place with Downey and Paramount in the San Gabriel Valley League standings. Dominguez has won seven of its past eight games, the only loss coming to Downey, 36-35, two weeks ago.

“If you read about them, they were expected to win the league running away,” Steward said. “It wound up a three-way tie and they wound up getting the third-place bid. For us, really for a fourth-seeded team, it’s an awfully tough draw.”

Dominguez has five offensive linemen listed at more than 300 pounds. Running back Michael Garrison has benefited behind that huge offensive line.

“They’re very, very large,” Steward said. “Great big players, very athletic players, good running backs, play great defense. They’re going to be a formidable opponent.”