HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL: Tonight
DORSEY (9-3) VS. NO. 1 CRENSHAW (12-0)7 p.m. at Crenshaw
These 12-0 Cougars are 'probably the best team I've seen in Crenshaw history,' a rival coach says. The team could be the first City squad to reach a state championship bowl game.
By Ben Bolch | Column One feature in The LA Times
December 4, 2009 -- Marquis Thompson has long understood what it means to play football for Crenshaw High. He was the team's ball boy in 2005 when his older brother John helped the Cougars win a Los Angeles City Section title.
Hayes Pullard also grew up well-versed in Crenshaw lore. He would gaze at his three older brothers' trophies and long for the day when he could become a Cougar.
Now the younger siblings are on the verge of their own special legacy.
Crenshaw is bidding to become the first City team to advance to a state championship bowl game, a possibility that is already percolating in the minds of the Cougars despite Coach Robert Garrett's one-game-at-a-time admonition.
"If we make it to the state game and we win the state game," tailback De'Anthony Thomas said, "I'm going to back flip from goal line to goal line until I get tired."
Crenshaw (12-0), the top-ranked team in the Southland by The Times, has a few hurdles to clear before Thomas can pull an Ozzie Smith.
The first is archrival Dorsey (9-3) in a City semifinal tonight at Crenshaw. A victory over the Dons, whom the Cougars routed, 44-7, last month, would move Crenshaw into the championship next week at the Coliseum against Carson or Harbor City Narbonne, where the Cougars would again be a heavy favorite.
If Crenshaw wins the City title as expected, the 10 California Interscholastic Federation section commissioners would presumably select the Cougars for either the open division bowl game that is the state's equivalent of the BCS title game or the enrollment-based Division II game against a section champion from Northern California.
Crenshaw's bowl resume is impeccable. The Cougars have victories over Lakewood and Norco, teams that have reached semifinals in the Southern Section's two highest playoff divisions.
They are scoring 51 points per game and have rolled over their opponents by an average of nearly 40 points. Since Crenshaw's 47-44 victory over Norco on Sept. 11, no team has come within 21 points of defeating the Cougars.
"It's probably the best team I've seen in Crenshaw history, and I've been around Crenshaw pretty much my whole life," said Eric Scott, the former Cougars receiver and offensive coordinator who is now head coach at Compton Centennial.
Crenshaw's opponents are faced with the seemingly hopeless task of stopping what Scott called "some of the baddest Pop Warner kids I've ever seen assembled on one team. . . . It's an all-star team."
There's Thompson, the mobile, strong-armed quarterback; Thomas, the track star who is impossible to catch in the open field; Pullard, the bull of a fullback who is also among the top linebackers in Southern California; and Geno Hall, the receiver who can grab anything thrown in his ZIP code.
"I just put it in the area and I know he's going to catch it," Thompson said.
Coach Garrett estimates that this year's team will send seven players to Division I colleges -- the most in his 22 years as coach. Longtime Dorsey Coach Paul Knox attributed the gathering of talent to "one of those cycle things. They just happen to have more good players right now than they've ever had."
Perhaps the surest sign that this is a complete team is that no two players seem to agree on a single strength. Pullard says it's "the best offensive line I've been behind." Thomas, who also plays defensive back, says it's "four great linebackers and four great defensive tackles."
The Cougars also boast some of the best facilities in the City, including a $3-million artificial turf field complete with a massive Cougar motif at midfield and a refurbished weight room made possible by an $80,000 donation from Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, the former Crenshaw defensive end who went on to star for the Green Bay Packers.
Garrett donated $6,000 -- more than three times his yearly coaching stipend -- last year for a new blocking sled and tackling dummy. He said it's hard to gauge the impact of the improved infrastructure on the team's success.
"I don't showcase it. I don't use it as a weapon," Garrett said. "In other words, I don't recruit and say, 'Come look and see what I've got.' "
Crenshaw players say they consider Garrett, a lively character who wears sunglasses during night games, a drawing card. Though he can be leery of outsiders -- he once asked a reporter why he needed access to the press box -- Garrett is fiercely protective of his players, who affectionately call him "G Man."
"G Man, he's really funny," receiver Gregory Ducre said. "He really cares about us, he tells us what's right and what's wrong, what not to do. He's a real big influence."
As much smack as Garrett talks ("I'm 32 years old," the coach who is closer to 50 professes), he doesn't allow it from his players. They are a respectful group, even after 67-0 victories.
"It's like a big silent killer," Ducre explained. "We don't say anything. All we do is play helmet to shoulder pad."
Although Crenshaw could go undefeated for the first time in Garrett's tenure, the coach cautions that a team playing in a semifinal hasn't accomplished anything.
"We know there ain't no tomorrow, ain't no bowl game, ain't no two weeks from now as far as football is concerned," Garrett said. "You have to continue to do well today and hopefully tomorrow will come anyway.
"But you make your own destiny and you look forward to something else; it ain't going to happen."