High on a Palos Verdes hillside overlooking the Los Angeles basin, with a hint of pine in the air, the lazy afternoon aura of tranquility was broken by primal grunts and the clash of shoulder pads.
If the setting seemed a bit incongruous for a sweaty, hard-hitting football game, so did the combatants--sons of doctors and lawyers and even athletes' agents, young men who worry more about their grade-point averages than their scoring averages.
But make no mistake, the men of Chadwick are serious about football. They may be small in number and they don't have anybody nicknamed Refrigerator or Too Tall, but with their 21-14 victory last weekend over second-ranked Pasadena Poly, the Dolphins have established themselves as a power in the eight-man conference.
The victory left Chadwick at 4-1 going into Saturday's 1 p.m. game at Pacific Christian. The only loss is to top-ranked Faith Baptist, and the victory over Poly (Chadwick is now rated fourth) should earn the Dolphins some respect.
Over the past few years coaches Jim Drennan and Howard Coale have quietly gone about building a strong program. The success is even more impressive given Chadwick's enrollment of 220. Chadwick is playing this year with a roster of 16, its largest turnout ever. Pasadena Poly had about 50% more players, several with big-high-school size.
"We have more numbers than usual and we lose only four (to graduation)," Drennan said. "Next year we're looking for real good numbers."
The team may be small, but Chadwick has had unusual success in basketball and baseball, so there's no reason the same athletes couldn't be good football players. "Some quality kids play here," Drennan said.
Three players from recent teams are playing in college--Rex Wempen is at Cornell, Jon Kaufman is a quarterback at UC Davis and younger brother Jeremy Kaufman is a wide receiver (and baseball player) at St. Mary's.
It may be eight-man but the coaches and players take it seriously. Drennan mans the headphones during games, just like the big guys. The team established an off-season weight program last year with good results--"We've been injury-free for three years," Drennan said--and the cheerleaders are as enthusiastic as any ("V-I-C-I-O-U-S, we're vicious, yes, yes, we're vicious!").
The youngest Kaufman brother, Jeff, is this year's quarterback. The junior heads an offense that passes about 70% of the time, but the Dolphins ground it out against Poly behind running back John Slusher, the team's best player. Slusher, son of professional player agent Howard Slusher, carried the ball 30 times for 150 yards, continually gaining on bullish second-efforts. He is also the team's leading tackler from his linebacker position.
Kaufman also high-stepped it against Poly, scoring the game-winner with 13 seconds left on a one-yard scamper. He earlier threw touchdown passes to Keith Moore and Todd Durbin.
Other standouts are center Greg Burrelli, a junior; defensive end Fred Clark, a junior, and sophomore receiver Charlton Jackson.
Drennan said the team throws the majority of the time because it is difficult for an eight-man defense to cover the 80-by-48-yard field. "We use a one-back offense. We've got kids who can run and catch the ball," he said.
That may be news to some. The Dolphins have known it for years.