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Mater Dei's Duarte is offensive player of the year
Mater Dei's Thomas Duarte was pretty good in the regular season.
In the playoffs, the receiver-linebacker was beyond good and well into the realm of outstanding.
Duarte had four receptions for 90 yards and three touchdowns in the Monarchs' 71-10 victory over Lakewood in the first round of the Pac-5 Division playoffs. He finished with five catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns, and had a sack, in a 53-42 triumph over Alemany of Mission Hills in the second round. He followed that with six receptions for 83 yards, and added another sack and an interception, as Mater Dei knocked off top-seeded St. Bonaventure of Ventura, 21-0, in the semifinals.
Mater Dei lost in the Pac-5 championship game to Long Beach Poly, 35-17, but Duarte still thrilled the crowd at Angel Stadium with eight receptions for 105 yards, including an amazing fingertip catch for a first down.
Duarte's outstanding play over 14 games makes him the Orange County Register's offensive player of the year for 2012.
He finished his senior year with 58 receptions for 1,025 yards and 15 touchdowns, and he averaged 18 yards a reception.
On defense, the 6-foot-3 and 225-pound Duarte had 42 tackles, 10 sacks, three interceptions and a fumble recovery.
All-County football: First team
All-County football: Second team
All-County football: Third team
All-County football: Mission Viejo's Redfield is defensive player of the year
All-County football: Mater Dei's Rollinson is football coach of the year
All-County football: Photos from the All-County football awards show
So he contributed in multiple ways. But what was his favorite way to contribute?
"On offense," Duarte said. "Any time I get the ball in my hands, I have the chance to make a play for my team."
He liked playing defense, too.
"Defense is fun," Duarte said. "You don't have to worry about so much. Just tackle the man with the ball."
There was also that all-for-one, one-for-all spirit on defense that Duarte enjoyed.
"There's so much camaraderie with the other guys on defense," he said. "When the other team is driving, you've got to pull together and make that big stop to keep your team in the game."
Duarte did not play tackle football until his freshman year at Mater Dei. Too big to qualify for the Pop Warner youth football's weight restrictions, Duarte played flag football at St. Juliana Falconieri in Fullerton. He played football and basketball his first year at Mater Dei.
"At the end of my freshman year," Duarte said, "I knew that summer I wanted to focus on football because I knew I had a future in football."
Duarte has scholarship offers from many schools. He has created a list of his five preferred schools – Notre Dame, Oregon, UCLA, USC and Washington. Duarte has made unofficial visits to all but Notre Dame, and he is the process of setting up official recruiting trips to all five.
Mater Dei coach Bruce Rollinson said Duarte was well prepared to have a great senior season.
"Thomas trained extremely hard in the offseason to get himself physically ready for the rigors of the season," Rollinson said. "And he asserted himself in the leadership area."
Among his postseason honors, Duarte was named Trinity League co-player of the year, with St. John Bosco of Bellflower senior running back Darren Walker.
Rollinson could always depend upon Duarte to do what was needed to help Mater Dei win.
"So many games, he came up with the big play," Rollinson said, "whether it be with a big catch, a key sack or an interception. For a young man of his size to go both ways is a difficult task, and he was able to not only do that but to do it and excel on both sides of the ball."
Duarte was always looking for a way to help the Monarchs win.
"Whatever is needed," he said, "get the ball to me and I'll get if for you."
He got the ball, got the first downs, got the touchdowns, and helped get Mater Dei get back to a CIF-SS championship game.
That's more than pretty good.