HIGH GOALS: Crenshaw head coach Robert Garrett has his team as the favorite to win the City Section title amidst talk they could also have a shot at the Division II state bowl game. Â Their first test is a rematch with Lakewood on Friday at home.Â
Crenshaw's bold 'state'-mentCity title favorite has golden opportunity against Lakewood
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports Editor
There's no mistaking that the team with perhaps the biggest bulls-eye this year is Crenshaw - the prohibitive favorite to win the City Section title.While Woodland Hills Taft will be in the mix and defending co-City champion Narbonne got stronger with transfer QB Chad Dashnaw, it's the Cougars who have to best chance to end their season in the Coliseum.But those dreams don't just want to stop there. The question isn't if they can win the City title - it's if they can reach the Division I state championship at the Home Depot Center.Can they succeed where Birmingham fell short two years ago? That Patriots team went 13-1 and was regarded as the City's best team in nearly three decades yet fell short in their season opener against Encino Crespi.
Â That defeat ultimately swayed CIF state voters to send Corona Centennial, who had beaten Crespi, to the Home Depot Center to face Concord De La Salle.
It's a similar situation for Crenshaw this year - opening their season at home Friday against a strong, Pac-5 Division opponent in Lakewood, led by USC-bound quarterback Jesse Scroggins.
Two things benefit the Cougars' chances. A favorable schedule (home against Norco, Fontana A.B. Miller and Dorsey) and a slew of returning players that may be the fastest in the state.
While much of the attention is on All-City junior tailback DeAnthony Thomas - the current City 100-meter champion - he's far from the only speedster on the team.
Seniors Gregory Ducre and Geno Hall both have top-flight speed and All-City senior linebacker Hayes Pullard III is almost as fast as he is punishing.
Pullard and All-City junior defensive end James Brock are two of the best at their position in the City and anchor one of the strongest front sevens in the section.
Junior quarterback Marquis Thompson had a strong finish last year after suffering a shoulder injury and should be one of the top signal-callers in the City.
But it's not just talent, it's motivation driving this bunch and there's plenty of it.
The past three years, each season has fallen short in the City semifinals to the eventual City champion - Birmingham and Narbonne. Last year's semifinal loss still stings, as they were two minutes away from the Coliseum before the Gauchos made their comeback.
With Lakewood in last year's opener, they had a 28-14 halftime lead only to be outscored 28-6 in the second half. So revenge will be on the Cougars' mind this week.
But the person with the biggest bulls-eye this season is perhaps the one most oblivious to it - and he wouldn't have it any other way.Â
In his 23rd season, head coach Robert Garrett has one of the most talented teams but his greatest ability to keep his players focused on getting ready for that week's game.
Few people will argue that the Cougars are one of the most disciplined teams in the City and regardless of the hype surrounding his bunch, he will make sure his team overlooks no one.
It's that singularly focused approach that has made him one of the best at his profession as well as the best in keeping his kids less distracted by preseason talk.
More importantly, this year's success could be the final seismic shift from the school turning into a football power after earning their name from their legendary basketball success.
Since winning the 2005 City Section title, they've placed several players in the NFL - including Brandon Mebane (Seattle) and Dante Hughes (Indianapolis) - and have several players starring on the college level.
UCLA senior linebacker Reggie Carter and junior defensive end Brian Price are among the best in the nation at their position while junior Darian Hagan (Cal) and sophomore Clint Floyd (Arizona State) will be starting for their team's secondary.
So can the Cougars succeed where Birmingham fell short? While nobody will say this Crenshaw team is as loaded, things are in motion to win their first City title in four years.
All eyes will be on Garrett and his bunch as the City's hopes of placing a team in the state bowl game. And all eyes will be on their field tomorrow night as their journey starts against Lakewood.