NCAA FOOTBALL

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For a guy who never played center before, Oregon’s Max Forer seems to have picked up the position like he was born to play it.

The former Santa Monica High School defensive end’s journey to the Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game against Auburn on Monday has been anything but easy. Little recruited out of high school, Forer wanted desperately to play Pac-10 football, like his dad Jeffrey, who played at UCLA in the 1970s.

He drew some interest from lower-tier college programs, but he had his mind set on something bigger. Yet, he knew his prospects were dim if he didn’t get busy.

“I was the only guy from my class who tried to go [play] somewhere,” said Forer, who graduated from Samohi in 2006. “I understood that you had to find colleges, especially in my position.”

He found himself too small to play major college football and not even in the proper condition.

Forer shopped himself around to colleges, with Oregon taking interest, but only if he considered playing center. Realizing he wasn’t going to be offered a scholarship, he accepted the challenge and an invitation to try to walk on with the Ducks, knowing it was a long shot to make the team.

During a recruiting trip in Eugene, he reconnected with Geoff Schwartz, an old acquaintance who played for nearby Palisades High School. Schwartz, who now plays in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers, told Forer about a guy who just so happened to coach and teach at Samohi that helped him in the past. He said that Kermit Cannon, who is the strength and conditioning coach at Samohi, was somebody Forer should talk to about preparing to walk on.

Forer returned to Santa Monica and immediately sought Cannon out. He told Cannon his plan to walk on with Oregon, something that made the coach think this guy must be crazy. Forer, who stands 6-foot-2 and weighed 240 pounds at the time, isn’t your prototypical D-1 center. Cannon knew that he had his work cut out, but agreed to train him anyway.

“I thought he was nuts,” Cannon said. “I’m comparing him to Geoff, that guy is a monster. I thought there was no way he could make it.”

Forer certainly wasn’t the specimen that Schwartz is, but Cannon decided that he was willing to take on the project. He said that it isn’t often that a Samohi athlete comes to him that has the desire and motivation to take on something big.

The pair set off on an aggressive program that included weights, drills and even running up and over mountains. Cannon said that Forer was the rare student that put aside his pride and physical shortcomings and just pushed.

“It’s hard to find a kid with that kind of heart,” Cannon said. “It was fun to train him.”

For months, Forer would come to Samohi’s campus to meet up with Cannon, the pair forming a bond that endures to this day.

“Without Kermit’s help and mentorship,” Forer said, “I wouldn’t have made it this far. I thank him a lot.”

When Forer returned to Oregon he impressed coaches enough to earn a spot on the practice team. He was a redshirt that first season, finally seeing action in 2007 against Fresno State and South Florida. He played in just five total plays, but it fulfilled his wish of playing in the Pac-10.

Again in 2008, the backup was thrust into playing time, this time against Utah State. He played a then career-high eight snaps.

“It was a road,” Forer said. “The road as a walk on is challenging.”

Despite his limited playing time, Forer’s time finally came during last year’s Rose Bowl against Ohio State. With starter Jordan Holmes out with an injury, Forer helped lead the team to a go-ahead touchdown. While the lead was short-lived, with Ohio State eventually winning the game, Forer said the experience was amazing.

“I’m from L.A., I’ve seen the Rose Bowl so many times,” Forer said. “It was a dream come true. It was pretty memorable and special.”

Forer may be second on the depth chart as his Ducks prepare to play for the national title, but he said that the road he’s traveled has made him uniquely prepared to step in at any time and continue his dream that culminated in the granting of a scholarship before his senior season. All the hard work, all of those grueling workouts with Cannon at Samohi, paid off for Forer, who said that Monday’s tilt with Auburn will be the ultimate proof that he’s made it.

But, before his Ducks take the field, he’s just trying to keep it in line.

“It’s like every other game, you just don’t want to get nervous,” he said. “Hopefully it turns out well for us.”

daniela@www.smdp.com

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