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Baichtal believers mount

FOOTBALL: Lack of size hasn’t kept OCC’s humble, determined safety from becoming a surprise standout.

October 20, 2007|By Barry Faulkner

Playing effectively at free safety usually means never having to look over your shoulder. As the last line of defense, such action usually indicates a dereliction of duty, and/or a big gain or a touchdown by the opposing offense.

But Orange Coast College freshman Shad Baichtal said he never wants to get to the point where he isn’t looking over his shoulder, glancing back to see if the doubters, coaches, recruiters, or even some determined reserve, can get close enough to take away what has become a surprising football existence.

At a mere 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, his loved ones appreciate the fact that Baichtal is aligned farthest away from the line of scrimmage, where his biggest rivals can weigh up to twice what he does. But the Mission Viejo High product not only leads the Pirates (2-4, 0-1 in the Mission Conference American Division heading into today’s 5 p.m. division clash with visiting Fullerton) in interceptions with three, he is third in tackles with 47, one behind runner-up Dean DeLeone.

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“You look at the kid and you’d think he belongs at some skateboard park somewhere,” said OCC Coach Mike Taylor, who terms Baichtal a pleasant surprise. “But the guy plays way bigger than he is. He has great instincts, he finds the football and he’s fearless, Some guys look like Tarzan and play like Jane. [Baichtal] may not look like Tarzan, but he plays like King Kong. Our defense definitely wouldn’t be No. 2 in the [12-team] conference in total defense without him.”

Baichtal appreciates and abhors such praise. Though proud of his consistent contribution, he views gratification with the same concern as a receiver sprinting free over the middle.

“Coming from Mission Viejo High, it’s tough work,” Baichtal said. “The best players play and you don’t really want to mess up. You mess up and you never know when that might be your last play.”

Baichtal waited his turn in the star-studded Mission Viejo secondary. He started only his senior season on the varsity. And, even then, he did not crack the lineup until fall practice began.

“The summer before my senior year, I wasn’t starting and I was considering transferring,” Baichtal said. “But I talked with my dad and I talked with the coaches and I decided to stick it out. Things worked out and I started all season.”

But he never got comfortable.

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